Keeping up appearances

Graeme McDowell follows his putt the 17th at Kingston Heath during the third round of the Australian Masters in Melbourne (Photo: Anthony Powter)When a player is given major incentives to appear in an event, missing the cut can lead to some lingering guilt.

Rory McIlroy admitted as much as he bowed out on Friday in his defence of the UBS Kong Kong Open where the sponsors, unusually, today issued a statement regretting his absence for the weekend.

No wonder then that Graeme McDowell was doubly determined to put on a show at Kingston Heath in Melbourne, where he scraped in for the weekend in the Talisker Masters following his second round 77.

A ten-shot improvement was the result as McDowell posted a five under 67, featuring three birdies in his last four holes, to move up to tied 13th, albeit 12 shots behind leader and defending champion Ian Poulter. Scores

“They’ve put their trust in me to come down here this week,” McDowell said of the commitment by the promoters to bring him to Melbourne. “I was panicking a little bit down the stretch yesterday. I felt so out of sorts within myself.

“I knew I had to try to make the weekend.

“I was early to bed last night because pride kicks in. I wanted to go out there this morning and do my job.

“It was great. The spectators came out this morning and cheered me on - I was really appreciative of that.”

McDowell said he had struggled with his swing on Friday and for Saturday’s opening holes but felt it clicked into place about seven holes into his third round.

Poulter fired an eight under par 64 to lead by a shot from Scott, who shot a 67, on 13 under par. The Englishman brilliantly banished the dark clouds that followed him as he left the course following his second round 72.

With Matthew Guyatt the next best, six shots behind Poulter on seven under par, the battle for the winner’s gold jacket looks like a two horse race now.

Surrounded by Hong Kong’s iconic skyline, Rory McIlroy won the ‘Urban Golf Challenge’ in Chater Garden, in the heart of the city’s Central District, on the eve of his UBS Hong Kong Open defence. ©GettyImagesThere’s a jacket on offer for the winner in Hong Kong but McIlroy won’t be donning it again his year after Friday morning’s meltdown.

Burned out mentally again after another fraught end of season run, he’s keener than ever to cut back on his schedule in 2013.

“Of course, you’re going to miss cuts in your career, but it’s not nice and it’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re the defending champion in a tournament,” said McIlroy, who has played 24 events this season as well as a series of exhibitions in China and Turkey.

“While there’s a part of me that perhaps wished my year had ended as soon as I wrapped up the Race to Dubai, I now look back over the last couple of years wondering why did I stretch myself so much.

“I’ve probably played an extra couple of tournaments too much and I have learnt from the last few years, so that’s why I’m cutting back my schedule even further from next year…

“I’m not sure if the energy in trying to sew up the Race to Dubai and competing in the FedExCup has taken more out of me than maybe I thought, because while I am feeling OK physically, mentally I feel really tired,” he said.

“When you achieve something that you want to achieve so bad, like the Race to Dubai, there is a letdown considering there are still two events remaining.”

Saying “no” to the huge sums he’s offered to play tournaments and exhibitions is not going to be easy for him or his handlers, but it’s crucial if he is not to get burnt out and fade away.

Don’t be surprised to see The Players, the BMW PGA or the FedEx St Jude Classic fade from his schedule next year. However, he is committed to The Irish Open, we are told, despite its move to Carton House from Royal Portrush.

Peter Reed, Captain of Hong Kong Golf Club; Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Rt. Hon. Peter D Robinson MLA; Jamie Birkmyre, Championship Director of the UBS Hong Kong Open; deputy First Minister, Martin McGuiness MLA; and Peter Aherne, President of the Hong Kong Golf Association.Ironically, McIlroy had left Hong Kong when Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister, Martin McGuiness visited the UBS Hong Kong Open during their trade visit of Hong Kong and China to meet with European Tour officials for on-going discussions regarding their golfing strategy.

It was the second time this year that the Ministers had attended an event on The European Tour International Schedule following their visit in June to Royal Portrush Golf Club, in Northern Ireland, for The Irish Open.

The political delegation spent several hours on Saturday afternoon at Hong Kong Golf Club, in Fanling, where they were welcomed on behalf of The European Tour by Jamie Birkmyre, the Championship Director of the UBS Hong Kong Open, and Ben Cowen, the Tour’s Deputy Director of International Policy…

he First Minister said: “The participation and success of our local golfers around the world has shone the international spotlight on Northern Ireland, giving us the ideal opportunity to promote local tourism.

“China is a significant emerging market, which is why we are working to build awareness of Northern Ireland as a tourism destination. Golf tourism currently generates over £14 million per year for the local economy in Northern Ireland, with the average spend per golf visitor coming in at £300-£450, significantly higher than the average visitor spend.”

The deputy First Minister said: “As our golfers continue to play at the highest level of competitive golf around the world, more people will want to come to play the courses that our local golfers enjoy, and this will increase tourism spend in our local economy.

“Tournaments such as the UBS Hong Kong Open represent a window to the world to gain further widespread exposure, and we are working to make the most of the opportunities created by our world-class golfers. Promoting our golf offering to an international audience and capitalising on the current international interest in our local golfers will help grow tourism here.”