Graeme McDowell will say ‘aloha’ to the new season in Hawaii tonight and he’s determined to prove he really is the fifth best player in the world.
The Ulster ace, 31, silenced his critics at the Chevron World Challenge last month when became the first man to give Tiger Woods a three-shot final round lead and beat him.
And while the new world No 5 knows that trumping his incredible 2010 campaign will be almost impossible, he’s still determined to take game to “the next level” and prove he’s well worth the millions of dollars that a string of companies have invested in his future.
Set to partner Ryder Cup victim Hunter Mahan in the elite, 34-man Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Maui, McDowell said: “I’m fifth in the world this week, which is personally very satisfying. But I realize that my world ranking right now is very much based on my last seven months’ performance and that’s the key going forward.
“I have a lot of things I want to achieve in this game and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and keep achieving great things in the game. I feel like I’m in a period now where I want to maintain this world ranking and prove that I’m a world-class player.”
Some American commentators rated McDowell as a shock winner of the US Open when he left players like Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson trailing in his wake at Pebble Beach.
But McDowell proved he was no flash in the pan when he crucially defeated Mahan in the final singles to win the Ryder Cup for Europe and then left Woods winless in 2010 thanks to that thrilling play-off win in Los Angeles last December.
The Ulsterman is playing full time on the US Tour for the first time since 2006, when he finished 169th on the money list after a season marred by injury and poor form.
But he’s determined to mount a better challenge this time, insisting: “I probably wasn’t ready for the PGA Tour in 2006 so I’m viewing this is as my sort of rookie season.”
He also knows that after winning four events in 2010, including his first major, he’s going to have to keep a raft of multi-million dollar sponsors happy following new deals with club-makers Srixon/Cleveland, shoe company Ecco and financial giants Mastercard.
He said: “It’s going to be a pretty tough season to replicate. To win a Major Championship and to hole the winning putt at the Ryder Cup is dream stuff, really.
“I think it’s going to be harder to do what I did last year. And obviously it’s a challenge to be one of the best players in the world. But I think I’m in a position to do that.
“My schedule this year is not a massively changed from last season. I’m going to add a couple more events here Stateside and obviously the FedEx Playoffs.
“Apart from that, I’m playing a very similar-type schedule. So there’s no big change there and I’m playing golf courses and golf tournaments that I do know.”
Dismissing claims that changing clubs and golf ball after such a big year might be a bad move, he said: “I’m sure people are scratching their head but things change and I always like to have some good energy coming up.
“I believe in Srixon, a company I’ve had a relationship with for many years. I feel really good about the start of a new era with some fresh energy coming at me from some new guys.”
As for the tournament, McDowell reckons that apart from the wind, there’s precious little about the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort that reminds him of home.
He said: “This is a great place to come, play four rounds, play some golf with the wind here, and really get some positive energy going for the year.”
Joking, he added: “The only thing like Ireland is that it’s green, very green. Temperatures are a little hotter and apart from that, they serve beer in bars. That’s probably about the only similarity.”