Darren Clarke is tipping Graeme McDowell for US Open glory at Merion next week.
Having played little golf himself this year, he fancies McDowell to best adapt to a classic layout where the emphasis is on accuracy rather than power.
And while he would never write off Rory McIlroy, a player he believes can “turn it on” at any minute, he sees the Holywood man’s switch from Titleist to Nike equipment as a handicap that’s held the 24-year old back this season.
“Rory can turn it on anywhere,” Clarke told BBC Northern Ireland. “Changing equipment is always tough, no matter what anyone says. you have go to adjust to new clubs and a new ball and new bits and pieces but he is so talented that it won’t be long before he is back up there again.”
Now ranked 308th in the world - a big fall since he rose to 30th with his win in the 2011 Open in Sandwich - Clarke knows he is unlikley to win a US Open this year having played just six tournaments.
Forced to pull out of last year’s US Open and this year’s Masters with injuries, he said: “I missed a lot of golf earlier in the season and I’m not competitively sharp so I am working hard.
“I played not bad at Wentworth (T32) a couple of weeks ago and Sweden (missed cut) last week was so so. So I am happy with the way I am swinging the club. I have just got to get back into scoring mode.
“I’ve been there, done it. So that does make it a little bit easier [in majors] but I am not particularly pleased with the way I have been scoring and it is driving me mad. But I continue to practice, I will just keep going and wait for the good weeks to turn up.”
As for the US Open venue, he knows that it’s going to be as tough as ever.
“The US Open is always a special tournament. This year at Merion it is going to be different, a little bit shorter, not the usual US Open. But I am sure they are going to make up for it in different ways, i.e. the rough is going to be thicker than ever and they are going to try and protect the golf course a bit.
“In saying that it is the scene of one of the greatest golf shots ever, with that iconic picture of Ben Hogan we see in some club houses where he hit that one iron onto the last green. I have played the course a few times before and they say it is short but the last few holes are pretty long. But it will be a good week.”
The Dungannon native expects the usual US Open test of narrow fairways and thick rough despite the USGA’s recent tendency to graduate the rough to punish big misses more than slight mistakes.
And that’s why he’s tipping McDowell to add a second US Open to his list of accomplishments.
“They don’t give you any margin for error at all with the rough as thick as it is. Around the greens it is the same sort of thing. The test is always very stern.
“I am definitely looking forward to it. It is where I want to play and what I want to do and I have just got to keep hitting the ball the way I am an hopefully I will have a really good week next week.
“I’d like to think so [that I could be the next Northern Irish winner of the US Open] but I think G-Mac will be really looking forward to it this year.
“He’s won a couple of times, at Hilton Head and then in Bulgaria there a couple of weeks ago. So he is obviously playing really, really well and Merion being that little bit shorter, I think that will suit him down to the ground as well.
“G-Mac can get it out there but he is not one of the big bombers so I think Merion will give him a fantastic chance to add a second US Open to his CV.”
World No 1 is the favourite to lift the title and Clarke is not surprised to see him back at No 1 in the world rankings again.
“He has played a bit more like the Tiger we know. He had a bad week last week at the Memorial but it is great to see him back up at the top of the world rankings again, albeit knocking Rory out of there. But I’m sure Rory will be back there very soon.”
Graeme McDowell played Merion on Wednesday and tweeted about his experience:
Enjoyed my practice at Merion this morning. First 6 holes are tricky, middle 7 you can score from the fairway, last 5 are brutal. #balance
Merion is in fantastic condition, rough is very dense and thick, greens are firming up and will stimp somewhere between 13 and 14.
He also hit a four-iron from the Hogan plate in the middle of the 18th fairway:
2nd shot to 18 Merion from the ‘Hogan Plate’! a) my swing is not in same league b) I hit 4 iron not a 1 iron
and posted this video.