Compared to last year’s high standards, Graeme McDowell’s 2011 has so far been relatively disappointing. He’s shown some form in places but nothing that could possibly be rendered similar to that of his heroic US Open win at Pebble Beach a year ago or his dramatic putt on the 16th green at Celtic Manor last October.
Portrush’s favourite son has strung together some encouraging rounds at the Player’s Championship at Sawgrass and also at The Wales Open, the scene of what he calls ‘his greatest achievement’ but both of these tournaments have been ruined by the inconsistent play that has curtailed his rise to the top of world golf.
Entering the weekend 7 under par in Wales, he looked set to mount another low scoring weekend and challenge for the title but a disastrous third round 81 (10 over) ruined his chances and he finished the week in an unsatisfactory 30th place.
That’s not to say that the 31 year old Northern Irishman won’t be quietly confident when he steps on the first tee at Congressional Country Club this week. US Open courses are always set up to provide a true test of golf and this 7,200 yard course in Maryland is no different. McDowell’s gritty, hard working style of play could suit this event once again.
Of course, there will always be others that are keen to get their hands on a Major Title. The absence of Tiger Woods will of course give everyone a boost; any golfer will tell you that it’s surely only a matter of time before his road to 18 Majors in back on track.
The Newly crowned World Number One, Luke Donald has to be up there with the favourites this week. Brimming with confidence and on a course that requires you, as US Open courses often do, to find the fairway, Luke will be hoping to break his Major duck, the only thing missing from his golfing CV. Fellow Englishmen, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter will be challenging all the way, both undoubtedly good enough to bring home a Major championship. Westwood, blessed with arguably the best long game in the world will find enough greens to give himself a chance but it depends on which Westwood putter turns up this week. At Augusta in April, he found as many greens as anyone but his inability to hole enough putts let him down, as quite often happens.
It’s impossible to rule out any of the Americans as shown by Rocco Mediate’s near taming of the Tiger in 2008 but at this particular moment, Europeans seem to be ruling the roost. Rory McIlroy is another of Westwood’s ‘If the putter turns up’ crew and will be looking to prove that his back nine capitulations at Augusta were a one-off. Former World Number One Martin Kaymer cannot be ruled out as Congressional could be the ideal place to regain his form of last year which has evaded him since Augusta.
As always there will be drama. A tough course with tough competitors could churn out an epic tournament in yet another Major that will not be dominated by the question “Who can beat Tiger?”