McDowell facing the daddy of all tests

The 10th hole at Augusta National. When the course opened, this was the first.Graeme McDowell gave his dad Kenny the perfect Father’s Day present when he won last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach.

Now the he’s been asked to produce an even more stunning 60th birthday gift for the man he had to ask for special permission to stay up late to watch the Masters as a boy - a champion’s green jacket.

Revealing his special request, McDowell Snr said: “Graeme told me he hadn’t got me a birthday present and asked me what I wanted.

“I just said, ‘Son, a green jacket would do nicely, thank you very much.’”

On paper it looks like a big ask for McDowell, who has missed the cut in two of his previous three appearances at Augusta National.

But the Ulsterman, 31, is a very different player this year and while he admits that it will be a massive challenge, he believes he has the guts and the game to become a major factor on Sunday afternoon.

Daring to dream of green jacket glory, McDowell said: “There is no doubt, I have dreamed about slipping that green jacket on my back and what that might feel like. Mine is about a 42 short.

“It is a special, special golf tournament and I just love everything about this golf course. It gives you chances and there are some really difficult holes.

“There is a great mix out there and depending on what they do with the pin positions they can make this golf course as tough or as easy as they want to.

“But I know from winning the US Open last year that if I can hang around for the first few two days, anything can happen on that back nine on Sunday.”

A 16 year old McDowell needed permission from his parents to stay up late and watch heroes like Nick Faldo and Greg Norman battle for the green jacket in 1996.

And while those memories add to the mystique of the event for last year’s European Player of the Year, he’s not overawed about his date with Tiger Woods and Robert Allenby today.

He said: “I certainly remember growing up in my early teens, watching the coverage on the Beeb. It didn’t start until around 10 o’clock and I was excited to see Steve Rider pop up on the screen and tell us about what was going on at Augusta.

“The Masters was an event we all grew up with. It is extra special and right up there with the British Open for me.

“I remember getting very excited about the coverage coming on and getting frustrated at how little coverage we did get, but it was great.

“Staying up late at night, getting a free pass off the folks to watch the Masters coverage on the Beeb was great back in the day and one of my favorite ones was probably ‘96.

“I was starting to take the game very seriously back then. Faldo and Norman were two of my real heros. I was 16 years old, and really starting to see my future in competitive golf.”

Graeme McDowell with his father Kenny and manager Conor Ridge at Pebble Beach, June 2010.Victory for McDowell could see him take over from Martin Kaymer as world No 1, providing the German star doesn’t have a stellar week.

And while many believe McDowell is too short off the tee and still too weak around the greens to be a major force on the back nine on Sunday, he has other ideas.

Having topped the European challenge here two years ago with a share of 17th, he sees no reason why he can’t contend on any course.

Keeping an open mind about his chances of battling with the likes of Woods, defending champion Phil Mickelson or world No 2 Lee Westwood coming down the stretch, he said: “I am coming in with no expectations and I have to admit that it is not the course of the four majors that suits me the best.

“But I can’t deny that I felt extra comfortable out there in practice this week and I am certainly not writing myself off.

“I feel that if I can keep playing the way I am playing and hang around come the weekend, I can give myself a chance to win.”

Being grouped with Woods for the first two days has simply added to McDowell’s sense of excitement about the week.

It’s showtime and he’s ready to perform on the biggest stage in the game.

He said: “I always say to Kenny, my caddie, when we are out there playing with Tiger at Doral or Chevron or Shanghai last year, I say to him, ‘This is good practice for when it happens in the big shows, really.’ It doesn’t get much bigger than the Masters.”

Following his incredible feats last year, when he claimed his first major, three other wins and the Ryder Cup, McDowell now knows he belongs at golf’s top table.

Explaining why he believes a new man at Augusta, he said: “I guess 2010 proved to me that I’m good enough. I know where I can go with my game and I guess what last year told me is that I’m on the right path.

“If I can put things together on the right weeks, I know that I’m good enough to win the big tournaments.  It’s just a belief thing more than anything.”