From Brian Keogh at Royal Birkdale
Graeme McDowell wants to snatch the Claret Jug from Padraig Harrington after digging deep to stay in contention at wind-lashed Royal Birkdale.
The Ulsterman was going backwards at four over after 11 holes but he knuckled down to snatch an unlikely birdie at the the 16th and post a 73 that left him lurking dangerously on two-over par.
With horrendous weather forecast for today, McDowell plans to batten down the hatches before going all out for his maiden Major win on Sunday.
And he confessed that he is has been inspired this season by Harrington’s amazing Open win and feels capable of following in his footsteps.
Twice a winner already this year, McDowell said: “Padraig winning the Open was a major inspiration for everyone in Irish golf - just look at the winners we’ve had this year.
“Keeping the trophy on Irish turf is something I’d love to do, but I am not thinking of winning at this stage. Maybe tomorrow night I might play my way into thinking that way but I just think it will be such a tough weekend and it's wide open.
“Anyone within four, five or six shots of the lead has a chance but I'm not going to be thinking about winning just yet.
“I have 36 holes of really difficult golf to come and hopefully I can control the golf ball well enough to give myself a chance, that's all I'm really looking for.”
McDowell was the first round leader at Hoylake in 2006 but fell seven shots behind Tiger Woods at halfway before disappearing completely at the weekend.
He shot a second round 73 that time as well but with heavy winds lashing the players, he was perfectly positioned at the finish, just two strokes behind unlikely clubhouse leader Greg Norman.
Recalling his Hoylake meltdown, McDowell believes he is a better player now and has learned enough to sustain a challenge this time.
He said: “That weekend hurt me very badly and I was very disappointed. I certainly learned a lot about what it takes to win a major.
“I know how physically and mentally demanding it is you really have to pace yourself because it is going to get tougher and trickier every day and you have to be prepared for that. I am certainly up for it.
“The forecast is for higher winds this weekend so we have got the be ready to batten the hatches. I think three, four or five over par has got a great chance if the forecasters are right.
“The course is not going to get any easier. The pins will be hidden away and the R&A don’t seem to be too keen to push the tee boxes up on the long par fours.
“I think we have got a tough weekend in prospect and I am happy to be in the mix.”
Out early yesterday, McDowell didn’t play well for the first 11 holes and missed fairways led to dropped shots at the second, sixth and 10th.
Another bogey at the 11th set alarm bells ringing but McDowell regrouped, missed just one fairway in the last seven holes and snatched back a shot with an amazing 180-yard three-iron to six feet at the tough 16th.
He failed to birdie the par-five 17th and then left a birdie effort in the jaws at the last but he was still delighted to escape with a 73 after such a poor start.
McDowell said: “I'd have taken it after 11 holes and walked in. I was ecstatic about that shot to the 16th. I really felt that I needed to pick something up on the way in. It would have been nice to make that putt on the last but I'm right where I want to be. I'm in the mix.
“I'm looking at it that the glass was half full. I had a slow start, four or five days of swinging the golf club in this kind of wind inevitably takes its toll a little bit and I felt my rhythm wasn't quite there for the first 10 or 11 holes.
“But I managed to find a bit of rhythm coming in. I think I'm a bit more in control of my golf swing than I was a couple of years ago. I know where the bad shots are coming from.
“I'm very comfortable in this atmosphere, the crowds are fantastic out there and they keep us going. With it being so tough and so demanding out there, you need that support and it buzzes you up, keeps you going and inspires you to hit great shots.
“There are 18 challenges out there where par is a great score and certainly that isn't going to change over the weekend.”
Winning the Scottish Open last week still hasn’t caught up with McDowell and he hopes he can show the same kind of physical prowess as 53-year-old Norman.
He said: “It says a lot for physical conditioning. It's fantastic for the Open, without Tiger Woods in the field who could write a better script that Greg Norman leading the tournament.
“It's great to see him up there. It would be amazing to see him keep it up for four rounds, he's got as good a chance as anyone obviously, he's controlling the ball well.
“It's still difficult out there and that kind of levels the playing field. I guess a guy with as much experience as him, playing major tournaments and playing away from flags, it's kind of what you have to do out there.
“I can certainly see how a guy like that can get around. I met him very briefly before and obviously he's one of my heroes. The guy's a legend.
“He's an absolute legend and a real character, a guy with so much charisma and style, and does a lot for the game of golf. I'm pleased to see him up there.”
McDowell feels fitter than ever as well and believes that the buzz of the Open will keep him going over the weekend, despite his Scottish Open win last week.
He said: “I feel remarkably fresh, I've never really felt this good after winning the week before and maybe that has something to do with this tournament, it gives you a little bit of a buzz, and with the golf course being as much of a challenge as it is I think it focuses the mind. You have to just sharpen the focus a little bit.
“It's just great. I hear a lot of Irish and Northern Irish accents, and I have had really, really good support over the last few days. It just keeps you going.”