By Brian Keogh
Graeme McDowell claims he's no longer scared of Augusta after making a Masters reconnaissance trip as a birthday treat for his Dad.
The Ulsterman played 27 holes at the terrifying Georgia track with his father Kenny and Augusta member Ian Webb on Sunday.
And he’s convinced that he’s taken the edge off the fear factor as he prepares to tee it up at Augusta next month for the first time since 2005 debut, when he went 79-70 to miss the cut by one.
Confident again thanks to a brilliant Tavistock Cup performance last week, McDowell said: “Four years on I am a more experienced player and it was great to look at the course again. I certainly wasn’t as scared of the place as I was when I turned up in ’05.
“I feel like I can handle the place now and I have a few things to work on over the next few weeks - shaping my driver a bit more from right to left and bringing some medium and long irons in a little higher and softer.
“The differences are very subtle and they have obviously lengthened the track but I was pleasantly surprised that the golf course wasn’t playing ridiculously long.
“It was nice to see it again. I shot 73 off the back early on Sunday morning without doing too much damage on the greens and then played the front nine again, which is definitely the tricker nine. It is definitely my favourite golf course in the world apart from Portrush.”
Dad Kenny turns 58 next month and McDowell was delighted to see the eight-handicapper play Amen Corner in level par as they teamed up with Webb, a former chairman of the R&A and McDowell's regular partner in the Dunhill Links Championship as well as a member of Royal Portrush.
But he was even more pleased to see his game coming around and hopes to give his confidence another boost when he joins Padraig Harrington in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week having finished tied for second there in 2005.
Worried about his lack of tournament sharpness early this season, he roared back to form in last week’s Tavistock Cup win over Isleworth at Lake Nona - firing a sensational 60 with Retief Goosen in the fourballs before winning the individual title in the singles with a 66.
He said: “The Tavistock Cup was great for me and it didn’t do Retief any harm either, he has just won in Tampa this weekend which is fantastic.
“I draw confidence from what I do on the golf course and I played really well in the Tavistock with Retief on Monday in the better ball and winning the individual on Tuesday was nice.
“I got a really good feel for my golf swing going forward and my coach Clive Tucker has been with me and we are going to make sure I am working towards the right things for the next month or so.”
McDowell is not playing the Houston Open next week but plans to make a road trip to Augusta with Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter.
The trio did the same thing last year with Immelman claiming that it played a massive role in his major championship breakthrough.
McDowell hadn't qualified for the Masters last year but given his recent upsurge in form, he has high hopes as the countdown begins.