Graeme McDowell slumped to an eight over 80 in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill but conceded that it might be just the “kick in the ass” he needs to get his game in shape for the Masters.
The US Open champion had just one birdie against six bogeys and a triple bogey eight on his 15th hole en route to his highest ever score ever in a non-major on the PGA Tour and his worst since he carded an 11 over 81 in the final round of the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst No 2.
The world No 4 has been struggling with his long game since the WGC-Accenture Match Play but he now recognises that he has a sizeable problem on his hands just 13 days before the action starts at Augusta National.
After a poor day with his irons and his putter - he had a trio of three-putts and 35 putts in all - he told Steve Elling of CBS Sports: “I’m not very happy with the way I am swinging club and my iron game is very out of control. It’s not like me.
“A month ago, six weeks ago, I had it on a string. It’s definitely technique issue that I’ve got to get my head around.
“Augusta is in my sights right now, I’ve got 13 days to get ready and this shows me I’ve got a lot of work to get done.”
Tied for 107th in the 119-strong field, McDowell confessed has his off-course life has been transformed since his Pebble Beach win and media requests as well the construction of his new Lake Nona home are issues that have distracted him.
“This may be the wake-up call I need, you know? So it’s a good thing really, a reality check for me. I’ve got to get my ass in gear and start working hard.
“Not that I haven’t been working hard, but I really have to get my focus back a little bit, and focus on what I am doing as opposed to all the other crap around me right now.
“I’d be lying if I said my life wasn’t a bit more distracting off the course nowaday. But you have to learn how to handle that stuff. I had a week off last week and I should be better prepared than I am.
“I haven’t been very happy with my game for about four weeks. Scrappy. The long game’s been a little off the boil. The short game has been sharp and my long game has left me a little bit. It’s back to the drawing board. I have two weeks to get ready for Augusta and that’s the priority right now.”
McDowell started on the back nine and went out in 39 with bogeys at the 11th, 15th and 17th. But it just got worse after the turn.
After bogeys at the first and second he followed a birdie at the third with a triple bogey eight at the par-five sixth, where he tried to hit the green in two but tugged his effort into the lake and then compounded the error by three-putting for the third time in his round.
He said: “It was one of those things. It was a battle out there and I tried to hang tough, but that triple bogey just kind of ended my week, probably.”
Planning to practice at Augusta early next week before hooking up with coach Pete Cowen on Thursday, McDowell added: “This is a tough golf course and you really wanna be on top of your game out there and I was on top of nothing today. Didn’t drive it particularly well, my iron play was pretty weak and I putted awful.”
Six-time winner Tiger Woods hit just four of 14 fairways, finishing with a bogey at the last for a one over 73 that left him seven strokes behind leader Spencer Levin.
Seeking his first win for 16 months and an injection of confidence ahead of his next outing in the Masters, the world No 5 didn’t hit his first fairway until the 12th as he mixed three birdies with four bogeys in another erratic round.
The former world No 1 battled blustery conditions to play the first 17 holes in level par. But he missed the 18th fairway to the right and after hacking up short of the green, failed with a 10 footer for par.
Californian Levin, who missed out on his maiden PGA Tour win last month when he lost to Johnson Wagner in a play-off for the Mayakoba Golf Classic, had six birdies in an immaculate six under 66 to lead by three shots from Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson shot a two under 70 to finish the day in an 11-way share of fourth place after a day that saw just 21 players break par. McDowell was one of 13 players who failed to break 80.