Déjà vu for McDowell ahead of marathon run

Graeme McDowell is hoping that his slow start to the season is a good omen.

The Ulsterman began his stellar 2010 campaign in similar fashion when he missed the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Masters before going on to win four tournaments, including his first major.

His failure to make the cut at Bay Hill and Augusta National for the second successive year is certainly familiar and as he prepares to begin an intense run of tournaments - six in the next seven weeks before his US Open defence at Congressional Country Club - he’s looking forward to putting his extra-curricular activities aside to concentrate exclusively on his game.

“It’s amazing how my season is kind of a mirror image of last year’s season,” he said. “At this point last year I wouldn’t have told you I was on top of my game. I missed the cut at Bay Hill and missed the cut at Augusta. I was a little frustrated with myself, and ready to embark on a pretty tough year of golf between now and the Open.

“But it’s amazing how my season’s kind of turning out that way again this year. So hopefully I can have a good summer. I believe I can. I’m obviously a hell of a lot more confident and have a lot more belief in myself than I did this time last year.”

Reeling somewhat from the whirlwind of off course obligations that came with his maiden major win, McDowell admits that he has found it tough to deal with the extra demands on his time in the run up to events.

“My world changed,” he said, explaining winning a major affects a player. “Life’s a little busier for me than it used to be. I didn’t really get invited to the media center on Wednesday at PGA tournaments every week, and nowadays I do. Just various little things like that.

“My phone rings a lot more these days than it ever did with requests and commitments and just various things like that. My off-course life has gotten a hell of a lot busier.

“It’s been a learning curve, especially this season, just trying to get the balance right, I guess. Making sure especially with events where I get to the first tee on Thursday ready to go.

“I don’t spend my Tuesday and Wednesday running around trying to keep sponsors happy and fulfill media commitments and really forget about the important things that are practicing and preparing and resting and making sure that at the end of the day I’m still a golfer.”

As a golfer, McDowell knows that his results have been poor since he came back from a short, four-week break in Tucson following early season events in Hawaii and Abu Dhabi

He showed signs of a return to form in The Heritage last week, where he challenged for the lead midway through the third round before closing with a pair of 74s for a disappointing share of 61st place.

“Yeah, doesn’t make for great reading my last six weeks really,” he said candidly. “Since Doral, I’ve really struggled with my game a little bit. Long game’s been off the ball for sure.

“Kind of had it back on track at Augusta, hit the ball well tee to green. Didn’t hit it particularly well again last week at Harbour Town. But through 45 holes at Harbour Town, I was three off the lead or thereabouts. Just got out of position a few times over the weekend and lost the flow a little bit.

“I came back a little sloppy after that four weeks off. After I played in Abu Dhabi, I came back a little sloppy after that. It was kind of the nature of the beast sometimes. It’s a tough game. You’ve got to keep on top of it. Just been a little out of synch lately.

“But just old habits coming back on the golf swing, but nothing too disturbing. Just kind of old habits. Trying to get stuff back on track again.”

Reflecting on The Heritage in Hilton Head, where he came home in 40 on Saturday and played erratically on Sunday, he said: “I hit it good at times last week at Harbour Town. But that golf course will beat you up if you’re not 100% on top of your game. I just didn’t quite have it last week, but I’m feeling better this week. I had a couple of good days work.

“But, generally, my game’s coming around. I’m excited about it. I’ve had a great run of events coming up here now, from here to TPC, over to Europe for three or four events and then back to the U.S. Open. I’ve just got a great run of golf coming up now.

“I’m feeling good, fit and healthy and the golf swing’s getting better and better all the time. I definitely haven’t been playing my best for the last little while. But getting things back on track, and I’m excited about the game now.”

He’s looking forward to challenging for the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana in New Orleans this week where he has been “drawn” with Luke Donald and KJ Choi for the first two rounds.

It’s a tour stop he hasn’t played since he was managed by ISM but his new management company has made sure he is being handsomely rewarded by the sponsors as part of an “ambassadorial” campaign that also features Donald, the Colombian Camilo Villegas and young gun Rickie Fowler.

“Yeah, it’s my first time here in New Orleans since 2006 playing in the golf tournament,” McDowell said. “Obviously, it was a year after Katrina last time I was here, so we played at English Turn.

“First time being here at TPC of Louisiana, and the golf course is in great shape. It’s a really good Pete Dye course, some bunkers to be avoided out there, some small, tiny bunkers. But generally it’s wide open off the tee.

“It’s really about the second shots. The greens have some rolling undulations on them. And it’s going to, you know, if the wind doesn’t blow, it should be a good scoring week.

“The golf course is in good condition. The greens are running good, have a good grain on them. But generally a really well-conditioned golf course.”