By Brian Keogh
Fighting Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley are planning to get back on the victory trail in South Korea this week.
World No 42 McDowell is gunning to defend the Ballantine’s Championship on Jeju Island after finishing as top European in the Masters.
But he could face a tough challenge from a resurgent McGinley, who ended a nightmare run with his first top-ten for eight months in the Volvo China Open on Sunday.
Relieved to see some form after missing four of his last five cuts, McGinley said: “I’d a very poor finish to last season and a very poor start to this year, probably as poor a run as I’ve ever had as a professional. So it’s been a worry.
"Though I missed a lot of short putts I can’t remember a tournament where I’ve holed so many 15 to 30 footers. That’s a really good sign for me because it’s not one of my strengths holing from that distance.
"Normally I’m good with the shorter ones. This week was a bit of the opposite, missed a few short ones but made a few longer ones.
“It’s quite a while since I’ve played well so it’s good to get a good tournament under my belt. If I can do the same against in Korea, I think I’ll set myself up nicely for the summer."
McDowell snatched the Ballantine’s Championship title at the third hole of a sudden death play-off with Jeev Milkha Singh last year - leaving McGinley seven shots adrift in third place.
His tournament winning seven-iron to 12 inches was not only one of the shots of the year, it also put the Ulsterman on the road to Ryder Cup glory.
And he’s hoping that his title defence will signal the start of another strong run of finishes in Europe as he builds up to next month’s Players Championship and the Irish Open.
Buzzing with confidence after finishing tied 17th in the Masters, McDowell has played a limited schedule so far this season so he can peak for the big events, such as The Open at Turnberry.
He said: “I am taking some nice form across to Korea with me and I am happy with how I hit it in Augusta.
“I’ve had a nice relaxed build up this season and haven’t played as much golf as normal which should stand me in good stead later in the year.
“From here right up to the Open I will be playing plenty of golf with not too much tine off so it’s full steam ahead.”
McGinley blew his chance of winning in China with a poor third rounds 75 but bounced back on Sunday with a 68 that boosted him from 215th to 135th in the Race to Dubai.
And he’s hoping to continue his resurgence in form at Pinx Golf Club, where he finished seven shots outside the play-off in third place last year.
Feeling more comfortable on the greens again, McGinley said: “My memory of last year is that Graeme and Jeev ran away with the tournament. They turned it into a two-man shootout and everyone else was playing a different tournament, which I managed to win!
“It’s a great golf course. It’s very well-designed, and there is an element that you have to think your way round there.
“I think the conditions will be warmer this year, but there will be more rough on the golf course and it will be a tough test if the wind blows strongly.
“We have a very strong field this year, so you’ll have to play well to win. Everything about the tournament was good last year: great sponsor, great hotel and great course. I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Ireland will have six men in action in Korea with McDowell and McGinley, joined by Gareth Maybin, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Qualifying School graduate Jonny Caldwell.
By Brian Keogh