Graeme McDowell believes he can contend at the Masters despite his poor record. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieGraeme McDowell will be inspired by the spirit of Jack Nicklaus when he goes for glory at Augusta this week.

The Golden Bear was written off as a Masters contender when he arrived here in 1986 but stunned the world with a legendary back nine charge to capture his sixth green jacket.

Now McDowell is hoping to pull off shock win of his own and prove to the critics and himself that he really can conquer Augusta after missing the cut in three of his four appearances.

Not only that, he has a lucky omen on his hat. His Masters number this week is 86!

G-Mac said: “When I saw the number I got I wasn’t loving it. An 86 isn’t the kind of number a golfer is looking for.

“But then I realised - Jack! He was the man in ’86 and I’m loving that number now. Could be a great omen for me.”

McDowell is teeing it up in his sixth Masters battling to set the record straight after making the cut in just one of his five appearances - a share of 17th in 2009.

But he’s coming here feeling good about his game after pushing Tiger Woods all the way to claim second place in Bay Hill two weeks ago.

G-Mac insisted: “Any time you are going head to head with Tiger is a good sign. I made a few mistakes on Sunday but I hung tough and hit some quality shots.

“Realistically, my Masters form doesn’t put me up there as a real contender but in my own head I am here to rewrite my history around here a little bit and try and contend at a Masters.

“I haven’t played well here but I know I can because I have learned something about this golf course every time I have come.

“The first few times you come here, you are in awe of the place and you don’t play that well for that reason.

“But last year my ball-striking was as good as it has ever been here. “I think I was third in greens hit through two rounds but just putted like an idiot and missed the cut.

“So I know I can hit the ball around here. There are three or four tee shots that don’t suit my ball left-to right flight but that’s all.

“I am not going to go changing my game around just to suit those shots because the rest of the game, you have got to control your iron shots going into the greens and that’s what it’s all about.”

Playing in his 26th major, the 2010 US Open champion feels more comfortable than ever on the big stage.

He’s deliberately taken a low key approach to the week so he can conserve his energy for the weekend, ruling out playing in today’s par-three tournament.

He said: “It’s not superstition though the fact that the par-three winner has never won the Masters is a pretty heavy ball and chain to carry around.

“It’s just a preparation thing. I have had two long weeks and I am just trying to conserve my energy for the next few days.

“If I am going to compete this weekend, and I want to compete, you have got to have the reserve in the tank.

“It is going to be a mentally and physically demanding week if you are going to be in the mix and you have got to prepare for that.”

McDowell reckons this year’s Masters is wide open with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy the favourites ahead of a huge group of players including Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Keegan Bradley.

The world No 15 said: “I haven’t done much wrong this year and I was 17th in the world before Bay Hill. And I haven’t played badly. It just so happens that everyone around me is playing great.

“It’s great for the game with obviously Tiger playing well, Rory back here to perhaps settle the score from last year and then there’s Phil.

“There are a lot of quality players and guys who can win. And they are fearless.”

Nobody knows better than McDowell how well Woods is playing compared to last year and he reckons the 14-time major winner is the man to beat.

He said: “He was hitting some very unusual shots this time last year, where you thought, where did that come from?

“But I played with him in the Tavistock recently and on Sunday at Bay Hill. From what I saw, I’ve been impressed with the way he is playing.

“He has got the ball under control. He’s hitting all the shots and the short game looks really sharp as well.

“He looks to have a bit of hunger back and when he holed the winning putt on Sunday at Bay Hill it looked like it meant a lot to him.”