Graeme McDowell confirmed his return to form after six weeks in the doldrums by racing into contention for The Players Championship at Sawgrass.
On a day when Padraig Harrington’s place in the world’s top 50 became even more tenuous with a spectacular missed cut, the US Open champion confessed that he has been “swinging the golf club like an idiot” since he came back from his four-week break in February and completely lost the plot after the hottest eight-month streak of his career.
McDowell missed of three of his last four cuts, including the Masters, when he decided to regroup with coach Pete Cowen last weekend to try and find and a solution to his swing problems.
The result is that he followed an opening 67 with a roller-coaster 69 to sit two shots behind leader David Toms in a share of third place on eight under par.
The world No 5 admitted that after missing the cut badly in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and then the Masters, he “hit rock bottom” when he followed a lacklustre display in The Heritage with another missed cut in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
“I couldn’t hit the golf ball any worse than I hit it there,” he said.
Still unsure what to expect, he added: “To be honest with you, I’m really going into this weekend with no expectations because I came here with a new swing if you like.
“It’s a small variation on the old one, but I was really here just trying to get some confidence, trying to make some good swings, and I’m just so happy the way I’ve played the last couple of days.”
For the technically minded, McDowell went into detail on the change he has made in his swing:
“I knew I had the golf club shut. It was the way I was trying to open it up. If you like I was trying to rotate my forearm basically at the top of my backswing, the back of my right hand was facing to my right, and we worked on really the exact opposite, so I’m really trying to feel like my right palm is facing to the right now. So it was the way I was trying to perceive the loft going onto the club was the wrong way because I was rotating and then you have to shut that back down again, so that’s kind of my thoughts on what it was. It’s very technical, but basically I had my right hand in 180 degrees wrong position, so I’m really trying to feel like my palm goes out now. So my golf swing probably still looks the same to the eye, but it feels very different, and my ball flight has changed dramatically.”
Feeling the effects of a niggling knee injury he picked up last week, Harrington missed this third cut from his last four starts as he crashed to six over par 78 to miss out by seven shots.
Out of sorts with virtually all aspects of his game, the 39 year old birdied his opening hole (the par-five 10th) before picking up just one more birdie (at the par five second) in a round that included a double bogey and six bogeys.
He’s not superstitious but he’s certainly inconsistent as his record on one win, 16 missed cuts and 20 top-10s over the last two years attests.
The 39-year old has been unfortunate this season though one wonders what other factors lie behind his fall to 41st in the latest world rankings.
His knee may have a part to play. But so too could the slew of changes he made to his swing in the off season or his constant changes of routine on the greens.
His bad luck began when he was disqualified in Abu Dhabi in January and continued when he hurt his neck warming up for the first round at Augusta and missed the cut in the Masters.
Last week he narrowly escaping another disqualification in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow after a fan reported him for allegedly teeing up ahead of the tee markers.
He got the benefit of the doubt that time but now he’s wondering if the problems that forced him to go under the knife to repair a cartilage tear in his right knee last year have come back to haunt him
Eleven strokes behind clubhouse leader David Toms before he set out in last night’s second round, Harrington explained: “I’ve strained my right hamstring which has overloaded my right popliteus muscle behind the knee.
“That’s causing an inability to stabilise the knee resulting in pain in the front of the knee. So I’m starting to adjust my swing to compensate by not pivoting or loading it in the backswing.”
His physiotherapist Dr Dale Richardson confirmed last night that it is “too early to say” if Harrington’s current knee issue has anything to do with last year’s operation and insisted that the problem was not serious.
But with the US Open less than four weeks away, Harrington can ill-afford to miss events through injury.
Then there’s the question of his world ranking.
While he rose one place to 41st in the world this week, Harrington’s consternation at his near disqualification at Quail Hollow stemmed from his fear that he could have fallen as low as 46th if he had failed to earn any world ranking points .
The good news is that the Dubliner did not need medication to tee it up last night, despite complaining of a stabbing pain in his right knee earlier in the week.
He hurt himself walking across a side-slope during last week’s Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, explaining before the start of the Players: “I thought it was something that would just disappear after a day or two but it has been quite sore since. If it wasn’t such a big event, I would probably withdraw.”