From Brian Keogh at Royal Birkdale
Graeme McDowell was looking to the future with optimism despite making up the numbers in the final round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Just three strokes off the pace on Friday night, he headed for Portrush reflecting on what might have been and vowing to put right the glitches in his game that saw him crash out of contention in Saturday’s storms with a nightmare 80.
After a closing 72 left him tied for 19th on 14-over par, the Ulsterman will celebrate his 29th birthday on the eve of next week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron knowing exactly what he has to do to become a future major winner, especially in the Open
“My ball flight’s nothing like it used to be,” McDowell explained. “I used hit the ball with a very closed-down clubface and I used to hook the ball left an awful lot. All of a sudden, I don’t shape the ball as much anymore so I’m not as good a wind player. So I am going to have to re-teach myself the old knockdown sort of shots a little bit.”
It was McDowell’s short game as much as his links prowess that let him down at Royal Birkdale, where he finished in style by blasting a 183-yard seven-iron into the heart of the 18th green from a seemingly impossible position close to the fence right of the fairway.
Still hurting after Saturday’s disappointment, when book-ended a forgettable 10-over-par round with double bogey sixes, he said: “I am disappointed obviously but conditions were absolutely brutal and I am going to have to learn from that and move on really.
“It was a little bit hard to shake off the disappointment of yesterday. It feels good to come out and shoot a disappointing 72 really. I had my chances today, I hit it good again.”
With two wins under his belt already this season, his goal now is to get his short game in shape for his Ryder Cup debut and a potential challenge for the Order of Merit title.
But he confessed that he must get his short game in order for future Major tests if he is to fulfill his career ambition and lift one of golf’s four big titles.
“I’ve learned this week that my short game will have to improve,” he said. “We worked so hard and, obviously were so obsessed by the long game in the wind out there the last couple of days, my short game wasn’t that sharp.
“I probably threw away six or seven shots around the greens the last couple of days and it made the difference between making up the numbers today as opposed to maybe having a chance to contend in some shape or form.
“I think I was more disappointed that the conditions took me out of play yesterday. If it had been a super day like today, maybe I’d have had a little bit of a chance because I’m playing well enough and hitting the shots.
“I knew I had it in the tank a little bit this weekend and I probably threw it all away yesterday. To do it on the greens is even more frustrating.
“You wouldn’t mind if you hit it in the rough with a couple of slashes, maybe drive it bad and shoot a number but I hit it well enough yesterday to do the business and threw it away with my pace putting.”
Set to rest now until next week’s WGC - Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, McDowell is looking forward to continuing his golfing education in September’s Ryder Cup at Valhalla before setting his sights on the battle for the Order of Merit title.
Relieved to make the team thanks to his Barclays Scottish Open win eight days ago, McDowell said: “It’s obviously a great weight off my mind and gives me a chance to just go and play my own game. I can focus on all the good things, like my world ranking points and playing against the best players in the world, just continuing in the Order of Merit and chasing that.
“I’ve shown in the last three or four weeks that I’m good enough. Yesterday kind of brought me back down to earth but I know I’ve got the game now. A little bit of relaxation in the next few days and I’ll be good to go.
“The Order of Merit has to be a target. You don’t get many chances to win the Order of Merit unless you are Colin Montgomerie. I think I really have the chance to chase it. It’s a title I’d love to win.
“I’m in the mix now. I’ve now got to fix my schedule for the end of the season and re-set my goals a little bit and finishing as high up as I can certainly is one of those goals.”