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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
McDowell set for major take-off
By Matt Slater
Golf editor

Spectators at the Masters, or "patrons" as Augusta prefers to call them, are subject to fairly strict guidelines.

All the usual "no running, bombing or heavy petting" stuff you get at most events, plus a few extra clauses from the venerable Bobby Jones about avoiding "excessive demonstrations".

Graeme McDowell at the 2002 Scandinavian Masters
1979 Born 30 July, Portrush, Northern Ireland
1996 Wins Ulster Boys Ch'ship
2000 Defends Irish Youths Ch'ship, wins World Universities Ch'ships
2001 Number one US college player, Walker Cup winner
2002 Number one US college player, turns pro, wins Scandinavian Masters
2003 One top-10, 96th on Order of Merit
2004 Wins Italian Open, 6th on Order of Merit
2005 Breaks into world top-50, 2nd at Bay Hill, makes Masters debut
And for the most part, the punters, sorry, patrons, are so happy just to be there that they forget to shout "you the man" and "in the hole".

But what do the moral guardians do when the biggest fans are inside the ropes?

Take Graeme McDowell, for example.

The 25-year-old Ulsterman will be making his debut this week, and, to put things mildly, he is quite excited.

"I just can't wait to play Amen Corner," he said.

"That is going to be fun. Standing on that 12th tee, or hitting my second shot on 13. These are shots I have been playing over and over in my head for years.

"It's going to be cool to actually play them."

Listening to McDowell is a lot like listening to a young Tiger Woods - there is that same exuberance.

You still get flashes of it with Woods, but years in the spotlight have dimmed his spark.

McDowell, on the other hand, could not be more excited about the Masters, his form, his swing path, the health of European golf...he could probably even muster some enthusiasm for Northern Irish football.

And the comparisons with a young Tiger don't stop there.

This time of year with events like Bay Hill, the TPC and the Masters, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world
Like Woods, McDowell was the number one ranked US college golfer. Like Woods, McDowell made a fast start to his professional career.

McDowell also has Woods' shot-making ability. He might lack Tiger's distance, but his three years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have helped him become a player for all seasons.

"That was one of the big things about going to the States," said McDowell, who learnt his game on classic links like Royal Portrush.

"I was pretty one-dimensional when I came here. I wasn't very long, my short game was all along the ground and I wasn't used to quick greens.

"But three years at UAB and I feel I picked up all the extra tools I needed to be successful."

With two top-10s in the US already this year, the early signs are encouraging.

Graeme McDowell at the 2004 Italian Open
McDowell's victory in Milan confirmed the promise he had shown in 2002
"Pebble was key for me," said McDowell of his eighth place at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.

"It got me recognised and made me feel I was ready for the next level in the States."

Reaching that level didn't take long.

The next month saw McDowell beat his mentor and compatriot Darren Clarke at the WGC-Match Play and then grab the golfing world's attention with a second place at Bay Hill.

When McDowell found himself in contention going into the final day of the Players Championship nobody was surprised.

Nice to see somebody put their university education to use for once, isn't it?

"I enjoy the courses over here," McDowell confirmed.

"I like the really fast greens, and I think the heavy rough plays into my hands because I'm pretty straight.

"I see myself playing a lot more out here."

European Tour chiefs, get off the window ledge! McDowell, who has played almost exclusively in the US so far this season, isn't turning his back on you.

He is simply joining the growing band of Europeans that straddle both tours.

"This time of year with events like Bay Hill, the TPC and the Masters, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world," said McDowell.

My goal for the year is to get a top-10 in a major - I want to contend
"They are the best tournaments. But I'm still looking forward to getting back to Europe.

"I will be defending in Italy, and there's the British Masters, BMW Open and Irish Open coming up.

"But while I'm young and physically capable of doing it, this is the schedule I want to play."

Having just bought himself a base at Lake Nona - a golfer's paradise near Orlando - McDowell is ideally placed to pursue his global strategy, and will never be short of practice partners.

The next step for the former Walker Cup star who bettered Woods' stroke-average records in college is success in a major.

Last year saw him add an Italian Open to the Scandinavian Masters he won in 2002. He also posted eight other top-10s on the way to finishing sixth in the European Order of Merit.

Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke at the WGC-Match Play
McDowell's win over Clarke: A changing of the Portrush guard?
This run left him within a whisker of the Ryder Cup team and it was perhaps only a disappointing return in the majors - two missed cuts - that kept him off the plane to Detroit.

"My goal for the year is to get a top-10 in a major," he said. "I want to contend.

"It's all about getting comfortable in that environment.

"Last year was my debut in the majors and it's easy to feel, sub-consciously, that they're different, but really they're not.

"It's the same deal, you're out there practising and playing. But it's a question of getting comfortable."

Comfortable. That's a good word for McDowell.

And now that he's comfortable in the world's top 50, watch him get comfortable in the world's top 20.

After that, watch him...well, you get the idea.

Links to more Masters 2005 stories


Interview: Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell

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