McDowell is out to contend

GRAEME McDowell’s memories of Lahinch and the South of Ireland victory that catapulted him onto the USPGA Tour might be sketchy but the resounding message ahead of his return to competitive fare at the St Andrew’s of Ireland is that it’s good to be back.
The Portrush man who celebrated his 21st birthday with a few pints of Guinness in downtown Lahinch ahead of his 2000 South of Ireland winning run name checked Uncle Arthur’s finest once more on the eve of his latest tilt at Irish Open glory.
“I always have great memories of the town here,” the 39-year-old said. “The Guinness tastes good down in this part of the world, and great hospitality and great people. I always have amazing memories. I think my memories are better off the course than they are from on the course to be honest with you.
“Certainly don’t remember the golf course very well, I’ve got to be honest — my memories are pretty minimal. Match-play back in those days, and some days you’d play 12 holes and other days you played a few more holes than that.
“But I always have great memories of the South of Ireland. I don’t remember the golf course being so good to be honest with you. The golf course is very mixed. The front nine is quite short and tricky and you can make a score, and the back nine is quite long and a little bit more there in front of you,” he added.
On his way to winning the South of Ireland in 2000 McDowell scored a third round win over Ricky Elliot — who is now the caddie for four-time major winner Brooks Kopeka, prevailing 3/2 before he then mastered former British Amateur champion Garth McGimpsey 4/3 in the quarter-final, while he beat Ken Kearney in the decider to earn an invitation to play in the following year Shell Houston Open.
The last South of Ireland winner to go on and claim the Irish Open was John O’Leary — his victories being 12 years apart, winning the South in 1970 and then The Irish Open in 1982.
McDowell feels his game is in good shape to have a tilt at emulating O’Leary. It’s a fantastic venue. It’s really, really good. “I think hats off to Paul McGinley and really the marketing he’s done the last six months on social media and really building this event up. Expecting a really great atmosphere.
“It’s been a great solid year. I’ve achieved a lot of things I wanted to achieve this year and looking forward to these next three weeks. It’s going to be some great golf, some great golf courses and a lot to play for. Very much trying to keep my eye on this week and trying to play as well as I possibly can.
“I certainly feel like I’m playing well enough to do it and I’m focused on the present here. Would love to try and compete and win this weekend. My record in the Irish Open wasn’t great in my younger days.
“Sometimes you show up at these events and you think just being there, that is the show, whereas focusing and competing, having a chance to win here would be very, very special.”
McDowell, who joined the ranks of major champions with his 2010 US Open win at Pebble Beach is paired with two-time major winner Martin Kaymer from Germany and Sweden’s Thorbjørn Olesen.

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