McDowell feeling good at WGC-Cadillac

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

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RBC Heritage

Hilton Head, SC - Harbour Town Golf Links

4:53:03 PM ET. 04/20/2014




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T1Matt Kuchar-617-10
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DORAL, Fla. – He offers the assessment not to put forth any sort of boastful prediction for the weekend; instead, Graeme McDowell was asked to measure his game and his attitude.

The last time they were in sync like this?

“The U.S. Open in 2010,” McDowell said.

Yes, he conquered that major championship, but what he remembers is this: “I had won in Wales where something had clicked. There was a knowingness when I got to Pebble Beach – a nice, neutral feeling, like I was floating gently downhill.”

That feeling is with him at Trump Doral, even if some might suggest he’s got an uphill battle on his hands at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, given that he goes into the weekend trailing a sizzling Tiger Woods by two. But the smile, the demeanor, the tone of his voice; it indicates that McDowell knows the challenge that faces him and eagerly embraces it.

He actually caught a glimpse of the leaderboard in late Friday’s second round and realized he was battling Phil Mickelson for second and thus the other spot in Saturday’s final pairing alongside Woods. “I said to Kenny (Comboy, his caddie), ‘Let’s spoil this party tomorrow,’ “ McDowell said. “I’m sure they would have liked Tiger and Phil in the last group.”

They won’t get it because the 33-year-old from Northern Ireland finished birdie, birdie to shoot 5-under 67 and push to 11 under, while Mickelson bogeyed the par-4 seventh and got into the clubhouse at 10 under. At every turn of the head there’s a marquee name – Steve Stricker at 10 under, Bubba Watson at 9 under, Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley at 8 under – but of course it’s the name in the lead that has set the tone for this World Golf Championship.

But the guy right behind feels up to the challenge, just as he was three months ago when he won a tournament that had Woods’ imprints all over it: the World Challenge. While not an official victory and though he held off Keegan Bradley, not Woods, the triumph ushered McDowell into a massive hiatus that he insists is a big reason for present peace of mind. He’s engaged to be married and due to open a restaurant at Lake Nona, where he lives in Orlando, Fla., and says “I’m in a good place right now” with emphatic conviction.

“I had a good rest (after winning the World Challenge), rode some good momentum, and gathered some good confidence,” McDowell said. “I got myself into a neutral position, got my mind under control, and I’m in good place emotionally.”

There was a whopping 73 days off between McDowell's win at the World Challenge and his first round of 2013, the Northern Trust Open. Though he missed the cut at Riviera, McDowell has made one positive step after another since then. He beat Padraig Harrington, Alex Noren and Shane Lowry in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship before losing to Jason Day in the quarterfinals, then McDowell put up a T-9 at the Honda Classic thanks to a short game that was utterly brilliant.

“I was No. 1 in scrambling last week at Honda, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been No. 1 in scrambling in a PGA Tour event,” McDowell said. “It gave me a huge amount of satisfaction, because it was tough last week.”

McDowell – perhaps because he was thankfully given a break from analyzing the struggles of countryman Rory McIlroy for a change – wore a smile when talking about his short game. “I’m chipping it like Seve Ballesteros and starting to hit it like him, too,” he said, though all kidding aside, McDowell’s sometimes Achilles’ heel, the driver, was in good form.

“Probably the best I’ve driven it this season,” he said.

Indeed, he missed but two fairways, yet the key to any great round is what you do with the misses that invariably will occur, and that is where McDowell shined. He missed five greens and got it up-and-down each time. For two days he is 9 for 9 in saving pars after having missed a green, the only one without a bogey.

He credits work done during that long break, mostly “working on slowing things down,” he said.

Things clicked at the Honda. “That’s what I needed,” he said, “(because the short game) probably cost me the U.S. Open last year. Not to take anything away from (the winner) Webb Simpson, but I feel like I could have given that a shot, if I had the type of short game I have right now.

“It’s great. I’m very excited about that part of my game.”

That he finished with a pair of birdies to earn a spot alongside Woods in Saturday’s final pairing and that heavyweight names Mickelson, Stricker, Watson, Schwartzel, Bradley and Dustin Johnson are lurking only adds to McDowell's excitement.

His track record includes a head-to-head victory at Woods’ expense in the 2010 Chevron World Challenge, and that’s a good feeling. But he concedes the next two days will be on a different stage.

“A lot more prestigious here, a lot more on the line here. We’re talking WGCs and prestige within the game,” McDowell said. “It’s a stronger, deeper field.”

Which makes it all the better that he insists he’s prepared for it.

“I feel like I’m in a nice, calm, confident place right now.”

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