Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland plays from the 9th tee during the pro-am event prior to the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort. ©Getty ImagesGraeme McDowell still has work to do to prove that his 2010 US Open victory wasn’t a one-off and when he tees it up in the Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria today he’ll be gunning to take the next step towards the “big summer” he believes is on the cards following his victory in last month’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.

Winning December’s World Golf Challenge ended McDowell’s two year wait for a tournament victory, ending a promising year on a high note. But winning at Hilton Head was confirmation that he’s on the right track and despite coming up empty handed despite playig in the final group in both the Open and the US Open last year, he knows he’s ready to add to his major haul.

“I think sometimes wins are springboards for something hopefully greater and beyond,” McDowell said at Hilton Head “And sometimes they feel like the finish line.  When I won the U.S. Open in 2010, there was certainly a checkered flag feel about that. 

“I had wins in my career which felt like springboards to something bigger and better.  When I won in 2008 chasing my first Ryder Cup team, it felt like a springboard to a big season.  And hopefully this one certainly feels the same way.

“Of course I’ve got to follow it up and hopefully have a great summer from here, but I’m off to a nice start this season.  I’m very happy what I’m doing. “

Thracian Hills is a spectular venue for the Volvo World Match Play. © Volvo in GolfWhile G-Mac again played an important role in Europe retaining the Ryder Cup title, it will have been his form in the majors that gives the 33-year old most confidence.

For the first time in his 11-year professional career, McDowell reached the weekend stage of all four majors, going on to record top-12 finishes in each tournament, with top-five finishes at the US Open and the Open.

While victory at the World Golf Challenge was McDowell’s only personal title success, his all round game was significantly improved from where it was at times the previous year, reflected in the end-of-season golf betting.

After such a sensational year in 2010 it was McDowell who was expected to be Northern Ireland’s golfing superstar. The following year was a different story, however, with Rory McIlroy taking the golfing world by storm while McDowell appeared unable to find any sort of consistency to his game, dropping outside the world’s top-20

“There was a period of about six months there in 2011 where it was certainly a lull.  I certainly learned a lot from that period.  Just kind of went through a sequence kind of sort of lack of patience and a huge amount of frustration, and a little bit of some technical issues and just a little bit of acclimatization, really, to kind of a new‑found status in the game and just dealing with everything that went with that. 

Graeme McDowell practices for the Volvo World Match Play at Thracian Cliffs. © Volvo in Golf“I think around September of 2011, I flipped a switch and kind of really started to realize what I needed to do to be more consistent and to get better and to get back on the horse, if you like.  It’s been really a constant improvement ever since then.

“Really, I look back to a conversation that I had with my caddie and my team after I missed the cut Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, and I realized something had to change.  And I’ve done a great job with that in the last 18 months or something like that, more than that, maybe getting on to two years.”

His return to form last year and strong showings at the majors saw McDowell finish the year back in the top-15, but more importantly, perhaps, giving the Northern Irishman a platform on which to launch a fresh assault on this year’s majors.

When it comes to the majors, McDowell is always in and around the reckoning in the latest golf odds. He’s shown in the past that he has the mental strength to shine on the biggest stage, and who says McDowell can’t add a second major title to his collection by the end of 2013.

McDowell is cagey but hopeful.

“I’ve always been a guy who needs to sort of play his way into form a little bit.  I need that run of events to get my feel and play my way into my swing and the way ‑‑ just feeling comfortable on the golf course. 

“But I think I’m learning as the years go on.  My golf swing is becoming more manageable.  My general game is becoming more predictable, and I’m starting to play well after breaks, which is a big key for me.
I might not do the ten weeks sort of Christmas break, but I’ll certainly get a nice break.

Graeme McDowell fires another tee shot away. Picture © Volvo in Golf“I’m playing fewer events than I ever have this year.  It’s successful so far, but we’ll see.  The main sort of meat and bones of the season is about to begin, so we’ll see.  Three major championships coming up and some big stuff, so we’ll see how I’m ticking over come the end of the summer.”

McDowell is playing the bare minimum number of events in Europe this year, which is why he wants to go one better than last year’s performance in the Volvo World Match Play in Spain, where he lost in the final to Nicolas Colsaerts.

McDowell was suitably impressed by the quite stunning Thracian Cliffs and Beach Resort ahead of his first round matches against Stephen Gallacher and Chris Wood in the Seve Ballesteros group, with the top two going through to the weekend knock-out rounds.

“This tournament is what The European Tour is all about really,” said McDowell. “We have certainly been taking tournaments to new countries and destinations around the world and really pioneering the professional game.”

As for his rivals, he added: “You can take nobody lightly this week.  Chris Wood obviously won earlier in the year at Qatar, good player.  Like the way he plays.  And Stephen Gallacher is kind of one of those streaky players; when he gets going, he’s hard to beat.  He’s long, strikes it great.

“No easy matches this week, there really isn’t.  Just a case of getting out there and hoping you can get the job done. 

Caddie Ken Comboy watches Graeme McDowell in practice. © Volvo in Golf“But two tough matches.  I don’t think there’s such a thing as an easy group looking down the list, so just have to putt my head down, Thursday, Friday, and hope for the best really.  Two good players, looking forward to playing them.”

The Thracian Cliffs course is not for thefaint-hearted and McDowell is glad it’s matchplay rather than strokeplay.

“It would be a tough stroke‑play golf course, there’s no doubt about it.  There would be golf balls flying everywhere, literally.  It’s going to be a good match‑play course.  There’s going to be concessions in the middle of the fairway here, there and everywhere.”

Having beaten Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry en route to a quarter-final loss to Jason Day in the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson earlier this year, McDowell is happy that he’s found a match play strategy that suits him.

“I think it’s about striking the balance between aggressive; between playing the man and playing the golf course.  I kind of got my head around that a little bit better this year in Tucson.  I got a little bit of a run going there in the Match Play, so hopefully I’ll be using that strategy again this week.”