G-Mac eyes sweet finish to "bitter" Major year

Graeme McDowell in practice at Oak Hill. Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ieGraeme McDowell wants to reverse a bitter year in the majors with a sweet success in this week’s US PGA.

After contending in all four majors last year but coming up short, McDowell has had a nightmare 2013 in the game’s biggest events.

While he’s won three tournaments, missed cuts in the Masters and the US Open and a lowly 58th place finish in The Open have made him hungry to finish the Major year on a high. The only problem is that he’s not playing his best golf and that’s a huge disadvantage on a course that requires, solid ball-striking and even more solid putting like no other.

“Last year was bitter sweet in the majors and this year has been just bitter,” McDowell said. “I’m keen to not walk away from my major season with four disappointments. I’m keen to try and get on the board this weekend and have some fun.

“I think I have a decent amount of belief that if I can get on the board this week, I can give myself a chance.”

The operative word is ‘if’ and McDowell’s recent form, despite that superb win in the Open de France, is spotty.

Graeme McDowell tackles some of the thick, greenside rough at Oak Hill. Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ie“I feel like I  have been in decent shape going into all three of the previous three majors this year and I haven’t done the job. I have worked hard on my technique the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been swinging the club, self-admittedly, having swung the club, even French Open wasn’t my best ball striking performance, I haven’t swung the club very well this last few months.

“I have been a little wishy-washy with my technique swing thoughts, kind of had too many, and I’m trying to streamline those and those what’s I’ve been working with Pete the last few weeks, streamlining my technique, getting them back on track, trusting what I am doing.

“And like I say haven’t hit it my best the last three months and all and I feel like I am getting back to where I was little bit more, Hilton Head, at the start of the year, where I played pretty solidly.

“I haven’t putted well this last few months, so focus on my putting as well. I don’t think the greens are, once you get onto the surfaces, they are not super difficult. They are not massively undulating, they’re quite flat in places,  they’re a nice make pace, they’re not very fast. To me, you can make putts here.

“I wouldn’t call putting as key as I’d call it at Augusta or some place like that. Guys will putt well here this week. I don’t see this as a putting contest. Of course putting comes into it quite strongly, it always does.

“I have fairly good mechanics of getting my thoughts right for Thursday. My main problem lately has been these swing thoughts, too many of them, creeping in, changing as a I go along. I played Muirfield with a different swing thought every day, variations on the same theme, but different enough to be different.

“I spent the last couple of weeks, myself Kenny [Comboy, caddie] and Pete [Cowen, coach] really just trying to streamline, get rid of the other stuff, variations on the same theme but trying to get it a lot more solid, a lot more consistent.  And get some stuff to stick too really.”

No one had a better major average in 2012 than McDowell, who finished second in the US Open, fifth in The Open and had top-12 finishes in the Masters and the US PGA.

And he reckons Oak Hill is almost a mini-US Open with a big premium placed on staying out of the deep rough.

McDowell said: “The rough has grown a good inch since I was here a week ago. You have to hit it in the fairway this week and the guy who hits the most greens will probably win the tournament or probably come damn close.”

“While guys like Phil may cope, it is incredibly difficult in places around the greens.” Picture: Eoin Clarke www.golffile.ieThe deep rough around the greens is a major hazard and McDowell added: “Guys like Phil Mickelson may cope, but it is incredibly difficult in places.

“You can roll three balls in and two will sit up and one will sit right at the bottom. Everyone has their own technique but it’s hard. I have two or three shots  — a really bad lie, a medium lie and the one that sits up on top. I kind of have three different shots. The real chop and hold, then maybe the bunker shot style with a much firmer left wrist and the more standard chop shot and then the one where you pick it off the top with a kind of draw feel.”

As for his general impressions of the venue, he said: “Oak Hill has a good balance to it and it does have a US Open feel to it but it gives you some chances, and the fairways are wide in places, and holes like 17 which is the longest hole of the course at 510-yard par four, they have actually given you somewhere to hit it. 

“The 18th is a tough tee shot as there is a little ridge at 275-yards you have to beat but as soon as you beat that the fairway comes in hard on the right side and forces you down that left path and you can’t use three-wood as you want to beat that ridge so 18 is a tough tee shot and if you do find the fairway you have a medium iron and a kind of chance.”