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McDowell counting on experience, patience for Sunday run at Open

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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McDowell hopes playing in his second straight final group for a major will pay off Sunday. (US Presswire)  
McDowell hopes playing in his second straight final group for a major will pay off Sunday. (US Presswire)  

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Graeme McDowell has a lot of big dreams, and at least one of them will come true on Sunday.

"Since I was a young boy I dreamed of coming down that last fairway on a Sunday afternoon, the last group in the Open Championship," said the Northern Irishman with a U.S. Open trophy already to his credit.

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McDowell is becoming a regular feature on these major stages. Sunday will mark the third time in three years and the second straight major that he's gone out last on Sunday. He was the co-leader after 54 holes with Jim Furyk in the U.S. Open at Olympic last month, and he finished one putt short of forcing a playoff.

"I'm proud of myself to be in the last group in back-to-back major championships," said McDowell. "That's something I'll certainly be putting in the confidence bank."

McDowell may be trailing Adam Scott by four shots, but he certainly holds the experience card in the head-to-head matchup.

"I'm sure myself and Adam will be experiencing slightly different emotions tomorrow," McDowell said. "But it will all boil down to the same thing. It will boil down to pressure. It will boil down to being scared, probably of failing more than winning. I can't really relate to what Adam is feeling because he's a hell of a player, and he's been a hell of a player for a very long time. He's got the unfortunate burden of never having won a major championship. But come the first tee tomorrow, that burden will kind of be irrelevant, a little bit, because like I say, we'll both be experiencing the same kind of nerves."

McDowell's experience handling those nerves certainly came in handy on Saturday when his round was going the wrong way in the first seven holes and he seemed ready to check out early after failing to birdie the par-5 seventh hole.

That's when his caddie, Ken Comboy, had to whisper the right words to put the Ulsterman in grind mode.

"I kind of felt the tournament perhaps slipping away from me a little bit and really had to dig deep for some patience and try to sort of put things in perspective, really, that if I could pick a few up from there I would be right back there in the hunt," said McDowell.

"I've got a great man on the bag who keeps me on the straight and narrow, who keeps me thinking correctly when I need to, when I'm walking down the eighth fairway ready to throw something in the nearest bush because I'm feeling the British Open getting away from me. And he's the guy that says, be patient, a couple of birdies and we're back in this thing."

That's just what McDowell did, making birdies on 8, 13, 14 and 17 to steal the shotgun seat away from Tiger Woods.

It was not dissimilar to the performance he made on Sunday at Olympic when he shot 4-over on the front nine before settling down and making a late challenge.

"The roller coaster that I experienced at Olympic, I guess you've always got to be patient, you've always got to be accepting, and that's what I'll try and do tomorrow," he said.

McDowell walked away from his runner-up finish to Webb Simpson with confidence instead of second-guessing.

"If you compare the final rounds of myself and Jim Furyk at Olympic, I was probably able to walk away a lot more positive than perhaps Jim was," McDowell said. "Jim had it right there and just didn't get the job done the last three holes. I kind of blew mine early doors. I battled really hard on the back nine to give myself a glimmer of hope, and it was only a glimmer.

"But in a way I was able to accept my disappointment a lot quicker because by the time I got to the 10th tee I'd nearly kind of written myself off and kind of shook it all off and finished positively."

Even sitting four back of Scott doesn't seem so grim for Graeme because of how he won his U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010. He started the final round three behind leader Dustin Johnson and watched that gap disappear in only two holes.

"I'm in a very similar position to what I was at Pebble," he said. "He's going to be the guy who's going to sleep on the lead tonight. He's going to be the guy with all the pressure. And what I did at Pebble was just keep my head down for 11 or 12 holes and just come up for air and see where I'm at and refocus and get the head back down again."

Scott, however, is no easy mark. While a major title still eludes the gifted Australian, he's won big events at both the Players Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone. Two years ago he surged into the lead on the back nine at the Masters only to get passed by Charl Schwartzel's four-birdie finishing kick.

But the Masters doesn't have the kind of wind that is forecasted to kick up -- finally -- on Sunday and it doesn't have the kind of rough or bunkers that can ruin a scorecard in a hurry.

McDowell is counting on a little help from Mother Nature.

"I guess in a way it will be in Adam's hands tomorrow if the conditions are as straightforward as they have been the last few days," he said. "Throw a bit of wind across this course like perhaps they are forecasting, he will have to go and work a lot harder and he will have to go win it. ... But I'm happy to be looking the guy in the eye tomorrow, and it will be a great battle. There's a lot of quality names behind us, as well, and just looking forward to the challenge."

Seeing reigning Open champion Darren Clarke tweeting pictures of his family enjoying his last days with the claret jug, McDowell sent his countryman a message last week.

"I said to him, I've got a funny feeling that we'll maybe be bringing that claret jug back to Northern Ireland next week," McDowell said. "I was talking really from the opportunities that myself and him and Rory [McIlroy] and Michael Hoey and the quality of players we have in Northern Ireland. And I guess it would be fairly prophetic if I happened to get the job done tomorrow evening."

If dreams play a part, McDowell may have a keener picture of what's in store. As a Northern Irishman, the Open Championship is the focus of childhood fantasies and McDowell has certainly visualized a favorable outcome.

"It may have crossed my mind from time to time," he said with a smile. "There's no doubt I think we all read books about how powerful the brain is, and if you feed the brain with good thoughts and good images, it's fairly good at delivering.

"I'm probably not the only man in this field that's thought about picking the claret jug up, and a few of these guys have had the opportunity to do it a few times. But there's no doubt I can pretty much imagine what it would feel like. I've already thought about a few various liquids that I'd like to put in there and taste what they might taste like out of the claret jug.

"But like I say, I'm not the only man that wants this thing tomorrow. And like I say, all I can do is dream big, and I certainly will be dreaming big tonight."

Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for The Augusta Chronicle.

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