He might be two shots behind Tiger Woods and six off the lead on the course that’s “close to unplayable” but Graeme McDowell sounded like a man on a mission after moving into a share of fifth at halfway.
“I think that’s a fair description,” McDowell replied when asked if he had maxed out. “Haven’t quite gotten into fifth gear. I’m probably still in third gear, fourth gear. Just gearing up.”
The Ulsterman added a one under 69 to his opening 67 to get to four under par and while he knows he faces a tough task, he’s up for the fight and talking positively about his chances of winning a second major title on Sunday.
“There’s no one on the leaderboard that scares me,” he said, no doubt recalling how he beat Tiger Woods in a play-off to claim the 2010 Chevron World Challenge in California, not to mention that year’s US Open at Pebble Beach. “The only person that scares me is myself.
“I’ve got to go out and control my emotions for a couple of days, I’ve got to go out and do my job for a couple of days, and hopefully, hopefully I’ll come down this last fairway on Sunday with a chance to win the Claret Jug.”
Reflecting on Friday’s round, he wasted little time lamenting a missed birdie chance from six feet at the last.
“It would have been nice to knock that one in ” he said. “But there’s a lot more golf ahead of us. I’m not really too disappointed about that.”
“Six back,” McDowell began, when a huge roar emanated from the 18th hole grandstands just yards away.
Glancing over the heads of reporters to the TV monitor, McDowell grinned. Woods had just holed a bunker shot for birdie to get to within four shots of Snedeker at six under.
“…and Tiger Woods holing bunker shots and all kinds of fun stuff. I guess we knew that one was in before it even got there.
“But like I say, the last few groups of a major championship, playing with guys like Tiger Woods, that’s right where you want to be, and that’s what I wanted going into yesterday and today, and that’s all I can ask for.”
McDowell made a great par save from 10 feet at the third after poor first putt ran well past. He then birdied on the fourth, missed a six footer for par at the fifth but birdied the par-three ninth from four feet to get to four under par.
A bogey at the par-five 11th, where he found his ball “almost unplayable” in a bunker, set him back. But he played a superb approach to eight feet at the 13th to get that shot back and briefly share third place with Paul Lawrie, Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner.
He did well to avoid a three putt bogey at the 14th, knocking his long range putt 10 feet past before holing the return.
Four closing pars left him in buoyant mood, despite that birdie miss at the last and he goes in the third round planning to remain on the coat-tails of Woods and hoping he can catch former college rival Snedeker before Sunday evening.
“I’m six behind Brandt Snedeker, but it’s just one guy. It’s not like it’s bunched up in front of me. I’ve just got to go out and keep doing what I’m doing. I can do it a little better than what I’ve done it.”
The Portrush man would love to see the wind blow but he knows he has to stay out of the bunkers, many of which were pooled with water.
The players have three options - play it as it lies, take relief in the bunker and risk plugging or drop outside the trap under penalty.
McDowell believes the course is bordering on unfair because of that.
“A few of those bunkers are kind of a little bit of a question mark,” he said. “But we’re lucky that we’re playing. The golf course is on the edge of unplayable. I’m not sure in other parts of the world if this was a normal tournament some of those bunkers need to be GUR’d.
“I saw one in particular left of the 16th green, if you hit it in there, there’s nowhere to drop and there’s a foot of water. That’s not golf. It’s not fair.
“A few of these bunkers that are question marks need to be taken out of play. Hopefully they can get them dried out overnight. The golf course has remained unbelievably dry considering how much rain we’ve had. The bunkers are a little dodgy in some places, unfortunately.”
As for his chances of winning the Open, McDowell knows he has a tough task ahead.
There are so many great players in the world nowadays. Brandt Snedeker, I know him very well. I played college golf with Brandt, I know he’s a great player. These guys have got big jobs ahead of them this week, as we all have.”
“Like I say, I have 35 great holes to come before I have that opportunity on Sunday afternoon, and I’ve got a lot of work to do.
“You can’t really get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t expect to win. You just can expect to go through the motions and give yourself the opportunities to win.
“And thankfully I can stand here and say I’m a fairly experienced player at this point in my career and I’ve been there a few times, and I know what it takes. It’s a waiting game. It’s patience. It’s not getting too far ahead of yourself. It’s going to be a late tee time tomorrow afternoon.”
Winless since he claimed the 2010 US Open, McDowell knows he can win another major or two having finished second to Webb Simpson in last month’s US Open.
“You’ve only got to look at a guy like Tiger Woods. Winning is, not even winning, contending is a habit, a nice habit to get into. I think you learn a lot about yourself when you’re in contention.
“And I guess Olympic for me really kind of reinforced to me that my attitude is good under pressure. I like I control my emotions well under pressure. I do the right things when I’m under pressure.
“I don’t always win. No one always wins. But Olympic kind of reinforced to me that I can control myself when I’m in the mix. But still, you know, I’ve still got to go out there and do it this weekend.
“But given the opportunity I know I’ll be able to get in the right frame of mind. It doesn’t guarantee hitting great shots, but I know I’ll be able to go enjoy myself and have the right attitude and the right frame of mind.
“There’s no doubt that kind of confidence just kind of ebbs back into the game again and gives me a little bit of confidence going into the weekend.”