Open season for McDowell at Congressional

Graeme McDowell breathed a sigh of relief when he discovered that Congressional is not the monster he once feared.

The defending champion was beaten up by the 7,574 yard beast when he played it in damp conditions early last month.

Six weeks later it’s playing faster and firmer and McDowell reckons he’s now got a realistic chance of defending his title in what he believes will be a wide open US Open.

Midway through a practice round with debutant Shane Lowry, McDowell said: “It’s firm enough to be wide open. Length is not an issue.

“Coming here today, the golf course is playing at least 10 percent shorter, maybe 20 percent shorter that it did six weeks ago.

“The fairways are reasonably firm and the greens look like they could get ultra firm. Even though there are some thunderstorms forecast I reckon these things could be like rocks by the end of the week. Anybody could win here”

McDowell was shocked by how long the man-sized course played when turned up for a practice round on May 2.

Demoralised after just a few holes, he told his fans on Twitter: “Nobody will break par.”

He felt it was set up for a long hitter but now he’s having a hard time picking a winner.

He said: “I haven’t got my head around who is going to win here this week but it is going to test all aspects of the game. It is a tricky driving course and the fairways are quite narrow in places.

“Does it suit a right to left shaper? Not really. There is not a huge amount of turn in the fairways.

“In and around the greens is going to be key. The winner is going to be somebody who is smart and is smart at flighting their irons into the greens and then chips and putts well after that.”

The last nine majors have been won by nine different players and like McDowell, US PGA champion Martin Kaymer believes picking a winner this week is a lottery.

The German believes that up to 40 players have a chance, explaining: “Probably 10, 15 years ago it was  there were only 10 or 12 players, but now it’s so spread out.  It’s so open.  

“It can be a young guy.  It can be (Ryo) Ishikawa, it can be Rory McIlroy, or it can be David Toms, as you saw at Sawgrass.  It’s very open.  It’s tough to say. But I think definitely it’s very open at the moment - it can be anybody, 30, 40 players is my guess.”

McDowell has struggled with his game in recent weeks, combining brilliant golf with three rounds in the high 70s or low 80s.

But he worked overtime with swing coach Pete Cowen at his Orlando base at the weekend and reckons he’s back on track with his game.

McDowell said: “I spent about 12 hours on the range  with Pete - a couple on Friday evening and the rest on Saturday and Sunday - and it worked out really well.

“It was hot and humid a good acclimatisation as far as getting used to the heat and humidity that we are going to get here at the weekend.

“I love the course and the set up. It’s a great venue and it’s going to be a great US Open.”