If the Philadelphia Police Department were to issue an identikit picture of the man most likely to steal the US Open at storied Merion next week, he’d look a lot like Graeme McDowell.
Straight hitter? Check. McDowell’s No 1 for driving accuracy on the PGA Tour this year.
Good putter? Check. McDowell is the 11th best putter in the US this season.
Can he scramble? Emphatically, yes. McDowell’s short game has improved so much from 2012 when he blamed his poor bunker play for coming up one shot shy of forcing a play-off with Webb Simpson at Olympic Club that he’s transformed himself around the greens.
From 177th for scrambling in the US in 2012, the 33-year old from Portrush is top of the charts this season.
Ah yes, I hear you say, but has he got US Open pedigree? Again the answer is a resounding “yes” in favour of the man who held the likes of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at bay to win the 2010 US Open on a hard and fast course at Pebble Beach.
No wonder McDowell sounded so chipper when a punter asked him on Twitter if he was “worth a bet” for the US Open again next week.
“Possibly!!!” was his upbeat reply. And why not?
When it comes to form, McDowell has little to envy from title favourite Tiger Woods, who is a four-time winner this year.
McDowell’s recent record reads: missed cut, win, missed cut, win, missed cut. No wonder he wasn’t so upset after missing out on the weekend action in his last start in the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
“I’m happy sitting out every other weekend, if it means picking up silverware every other Sunday,” McDowell said recently. “I’m in a good place and I’m excited about Merion.
“The way I see the course is in three stages. The first six are tricky, the middle seven you can score on if you’re in the fairway, while the last five are just brutal. The 15th is probably one of the hardest tee-shots you’ll ever see. You actually have to hit it at the out-of-bounds.”
McDowell played the course last year and loved it. And while the USGA has left itself open to ridicule by choosing a track that measures less than 7,000 yards to host its blue riband event for the first time since 1981, only a weekend deluge can take the fire out of its fairways and greens.
That was a distinct possibility last night with the tail end of Tropical Storm Andrea forecast to sweep through Pennsylvania. McDowell was probably lighting a candle somewhere praying the forecasters were wrong because he needs run and firm conditions to even the field at a course where the driver will be required no more than five or six times.
“The game shouldn’t just be about distance,” McDowell said. “Of course it’s exciting to see this new power-packed breed come along, who first learn to hit it a long way and then concentrate on the accuracy afterwards.
“But the US Open is about testing every aspect of the golf game. And if Mother Nature obliges, Merion will do so and stage a great US Open. It’ll be a unique place in major golf in so many ways.
“I hope the conditions there in Philadelphia are fast and firm and that the rains don’t arrive to make it soft and very scoreable.
“The USGA have been brave in taking it back to and old-school layout after such a long break. And it would be shame if the modern pros butchered it.”
He played it again this week and told his 484,000 twitter followers: “Merion is in fantastic condition, rough is very dense and thick, greens are firming up and will stimp somewhere between 13 and 14.”
That’s just perfect for McDowell, who was mightily impressive in beating Simpson to victory in the RBC Heritage at a tight and tricky Hilton Head earlier this year before going on to take the Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria.
Merion is such a tight venue that the USGA has limited the attendance to just 25,000 a day. And the first tee is so claustrophobic that it’s possible to smell the beer the members will be drinking on the patio, less than a club length from the first tee.
“Yeah, you’ve literally got like a bar and restaurant four feet from you,” McDowell said. “There we’ll be, all very serious, opening our challenge in the first round of the US Open and right next to us will be patrons with cold beers in their hands. It’s going to be interesting — there’s not a lot of room out there. Spectators are going to have stay seated. There won’t be a lot of movement.
“It’ll be fantastic. It’s a great little course.”
Nothing suits McDowell better than a tough course where par is your friend.
“For some reason I’ve always been good at getting into the mindset where par is a great score,” said the man who has one win, one second place and two top-20s from his last four US Open starts.
“I love the grind, love the fact that even if you make a few bogeys you’re only six or seven pars away from being back on the right side of a decent score.
“You have to realise what you are, who you are and I’m not a man who could can move it 350 yards and dismantle the golf course, like say a Rory Mcilroy. But I will play a tough course well, when it’s all about fairways and green and scrambling.”
Merion is part of golfing lore — the course where Bobby Jones completed the Grand Slam in 1930, where Ben Hogan hit that iconic one-iron to the 18th en route to victory in 1950. It’s the course where Lee Trevino weaved his magic to take down big Jack Nicklaus in a play-off in 1971 and where the metronomic David Graham dissected the course to win in 1981.
Who better than McDowell, an old school swinger who likes a waistcoat and the natty style that Hogan would approve of to win the famous old silver trophy again.
As Darren Clarke said this week: “I think G-Mac will be really looking forward to it this year… Merion being that little bit shorter, I think that will suit him down to the ground.”