Rory McIlroy might have lost his world No 2 ranking to new Open champion Phil Mickelson but like Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, the Holywood star will put his frustrations aside for a few weeks and come back for more in the US PGA next month.
The allure of the majors never gets old for the greats of the game and while McDowell has yet to lift a Claret Jug and Harrington already has two, they will be be back at Hoylake next year dreaming of that walk up the 18th.
“Having three majors or one major or two majors doesn’t make it any easier why you’re playing,” Harrington said of the undeniable fact that having a major does not give you a god-given right to win more.
“It only makes it easier when you stop, and I have no intention of stopping. You only have to look at someone who has won one or two or whatever, it brings a burden to their game. To be honest, I think Graeme is one of the few guys who has become a better player since he won a Major. Most guys, it is a burden to carry and it’s a struggle, that’s why you have so many single one-time major winners.
“It’s a big burden for a lot of people to carry. There’s a lot of pressure no doubt about it, and it doesn’t make things easier. The frustrations of not getting to that high again… The reward for it is when you stop, so I’m happy to put up with those frustrations for the moment.”
Harrington has gone almost five years without a major win while McDowell has struggled to produce his very best golf in the big ones since he came so close in the US Open and the Open last year.
At least McDowell was around for the weekend at Muirfield, having missed the cut at Augusta and Merion.
Having skipped the Scottish Open in a hail of negative publicity last week, the Portrush man is now thinking seriously of playing the event when it moves to Royal Aberdeen next year.
With three successive Open champions coming straight from the Scottish Open to lift the Claret Jug, McDowell might just have to find a gap in his schedule. Not that that is going to be easy.
“Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?” McDowell said when asked if he’d had any regrets about missing the Scottish Open. “Listen, I wish I had done a lot of things differently coming into this week now. But that’s just the way it is. You’re dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t sometimes.
“I was very happy with my prep coming into here, winning the French. Spent time here last week. Would I have played better this week if I hadn’t played the Scottish Open? Who knows? I might have missed the cut. So no idea. I’m happy with my schedule.
“I can’t play them all. Unfortunately Castle Stuart was the one that got the chop, for no other reason, apart from scheduling, really.
“Royal Aberdeen next year? Very possibly. But I’m going to run into a scheduling issue, you know, U.S. Open, followed by the BMW Munich, Irish Open, French Open, Scottish Open, British Open. So it’s a very busy time of the year. No doubt Royal Aberdeen is a golf course that interests me a lot and could be fantastic prep for the British Open.”
Both Harrington and McDowell had more on their minds coming to terms with the parts of their games that went missing when they needed them most at Muirfield.
Harrington was good from tee to green and three-putted just twice in 72 holes. Yet he made just six birdies all week, all of them on par fives, which is a feat in itself.
“I didn’t make a birdie on a par three or a par four this week,” he said after finishing 54th on 11 over which leaves him needing good weeks in the Reno-Tahoe Open in a fortnight and the US PGA to make the top 125 who qualify for the opening FedEx Cup playoff event.
“I made six birdies in total, all on par fives. I think five of them were two-putts or tap-ins. I’m just struggling to hole the birdie putts, same at the US Open, I made six birdies in the week. I only got six, the same as the US Open. I had 54 pars at the US Open and 50 here…I’d say at those two events I am leading the par count, but that doesn’t count for much…
“It’s not that I’m hitting all good shots but I’m hitting some good shots and not to make a birdie on a par-4 or par-3 the whole week, like, what are the odd of that?
“I think just not making enough birdies kills your momentum. If you don’t make a birdie when you make a bogey, you can’t find your way back. I got no sort of outrageous putt, nothing. Whenever I did hit a good iron shot, especially the first day I think I nearly holed three iron shots and didn’t make birdie off any of them.
“They could have gone in when they were running by the hole. When things aren’t going for you it’s hard when you’re not making birdies to counteract the bogeys which hare inevitable out there.
“You’re not going to hit perfect shots all and you’re going to get the odd bad break so you need to feel like you are making birdies to counteract that. Like I said, I think six in the week, all on par fives … it’s nice to be birdying the par fives, though.”
His week was summed up at the 18th where his six iron from 206 yards ran past the edge of the hole. Inevitably, he missed the putt.
“I realised it I think somewhere through the back nine,” he said of his failure to birdie at par-three or a par-four. “I know I was trying hard. At the 18th I was joking with the referee that I was going to make birdie down here and I called it in the air, my second shot was straight down the pin.
“I was surprised to hit it 20 feet by because we’d taken the club less rather than the club more. Another day that would have been six feet and I’d have missed it from there.”
Then he added: “When it turns, it turns and we’ll just try to be patient and wait for it to turn. I’m delighted with my putting, in that I’m knocking in the shorter putts. When it’s a one-off putt for birdie I’m not trusting my read…. Maybe I’m saving all these birdies up.”
Looking at the putting statistics, Harrington was 73rd of the 84 players who made the cut - 35, 32, 32, 30 - yet insisted he will resist the temptation to ditch the belly putter for the conventional model.
“Because I am putting great with the long one,” he argued.
No lack of feel then over the 10-20 footers?
“No. I changed the way I putt at the start of the year. I spot putt which is great on the short putts and is better for my alignment on all putts. Maybe on the longer putts I would be better off without the spot putting. Picking a spot and hitting over the spot.”
McDowell’s problem was his putting though he had every reason to feel downcast after following Saturday’s 73 with a 77 to finish 58th on 12 over.
“And just a combination this week really of not hitting it great, not putting great,” said McDowell, who opened with a bogey, doubled the second and bogeyed the third before dropping further shots at the eighth and 13th. “And around a golf course like this you’ve got to be on your game. It was kind of one of those weeks.
“Sort of Thursday, Friday, Saturday were there or thereabouts, each day I walked off could have been a few better every day. It slowly wears you down this place. And got kind of impatient after my start today and just one of those things, really.
Heading to Cananda for the RBC Canadian Open this week, McDowell added: “I’m disappointed not to have contended this weekend, but like I say, my game was just a bit off in most departments. I got a little bit of a left going on, which I need to eradicate from my game. When I’m playing well, I don’t hit the ball left. But at the minute I’m hitting the ball left. I’ve got to do something about that.”
For the third time in four days, Darren Clarke refused to talk to the press about his game, despite finishing as the best of the Irish in joint 21st on seven over par after rounds of 72, 71, 76 and 72.
Bogeys at the last two holes caused the red mist to descend and he made a hasty exit to catch 7.30pm boat back to Ireland. Perhaps the red mist has lifted by now but one wonders what he would be like in the heat of a Ryder Cup battle, should he ever land the captaincy.