Graeme McDowell thinks hard on day one of the Saab Wales Open. By day three he had even more food for thought. Credit: golffile.ieGolfers hate the unexpected, whether it be a shank, a socket or a round of 81 out of the blue when challenging for a title on what should be their favourite course on the planet.

But that’s exactly what happened to Graeme McDowell in the third round of the Saab Wales Open - a series of blow ups, accidents and meltdowns so bizarre that he admits afterwards that he is asking himself some  serious questions about his mental game with less than two weeks to go before he defends the US Open title at Congressional.

Many others shot high rounds on a difficult day but McDowell would hate that excuse after his hook came back to haunt him and his head melted en route to a ten over par 81 - the joint worst round of this European Tour career.

“Obviously I’m very disappointed,” he said. “I got off to a start where everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”

End of a long day. Graeme McDowell and caddie Ken Comboy on the 18th green at Celtic Manor on Saturday. Picture: Fran Caffrey/ [Click to enlarge]He dropped eight shots in the first seven holes, birdied the eighth and ninth to turn in 42 but then followed a bogey at the reachable, par-five 11th with a quadruple bogey eight at the 12th and did well to play the last six in one under thanks to a two-putt birdie at the last.

“I just couldn’t get anything going,” McDowell added. “It was the most crazy seven holes I’ve had in a long time - my head was spinning.

“I feel I got heavily punished for some mediocre golf, not disastrously bad golf. After the 11th (a bogey six on a reachable par five) I completely lost my patience and at 12 (a quadruple bogey eight) I just lost my head. That was me gone.

“I felt like I was in control of my game, but I very swiftly got out of control. I’ve made more double bogeys and triple bogeys this season than ever and I need to address that and understand why that is. It kind of broke my heart a little bit.

“Tomorrow I’ll try to shoot 66-67, then lick my wounds and get ready for Congressional. But there are some mental areas that I’ve got to address.”

McDowell’s previous worst rounds on the European circuit were 81s at Valderrama in 2002 - his rookie season - and at Pinehurst in the 2005 US Open.

But this one could prove to be more damaging after he went from one shot to 11 behind lead Alex Noren.

His swing glitches arrived just when he felt his game was simmering nicely ahead of his US Open defence and he was unable to rectify them on the march or control his emotions.

Few players are mentally stronger than McDowell, however, and if anyone can overcome this hurdle, he’s the man.

He’s dealt brilliantly with high expectations following his incredible 2010 campaign but shooting 81 on the course where he won the Wales Open last year to kick start the dream, is the stuff of nightmares.

Mental errors are signs of fatigue and McDowell, who also failed to steady the ship in a tired final round 79 that cost him the Players Championship title last month, may finally be paying the price for his 2010 heroics and a shortened winter break.