Graeme McDowell, golf's newest major champion, returns to the European Tour at Loch Lomond on Thursday, but admits it could be at St. Andrews next week before he is ready to contend again.
"My expectations are not huge,” said McDowell of the Barclays Scottish Open, two weeks after celebrating his stunning U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach. "This week it's about getting the body back in shape and the business head screwed back on. No disrespect to this tournament -- I've won around here -- I just need to shake the rust out of the system.
"I've one eye on next week. I'm going to be practicing very hard and I'm definitely keeping parties and celebrations to a bare minimum -- there will none of that going on,” he emphasized. "I've made enough good swings the last few days to know that they are still in there and certainly mentally I can be ready for next week, for sure. I'm definitely going there with expectations of competing and playing well."
McDowell has already made a trip to the Home of Golf to see the set-up for the British Open starting next Thursday, and his excitement is fuelled by the fact that he shot a course record-equalling 62 there in the 2004 Dunhill Links Championship.
Whatever he says, the fact remains that he will be trying for a third successive win over the coming four days, having lifted the Celtic Manor Wales Open before flying to the States. Not surprisingly, he has hardly been able to take a step without being congratulated for what he achieved -- as was the case at the J.P. McManus Pro-am in Ireland on Monday and Tuesday.
"Players and caddies and friends and Tour officials and just people I've played with have come up to me. A lot of them are sort of disbelieving," he said. "They are the way I feel really, saying 'unbelievable'. I'm sure I've surprised some people, but I hope that I haven't surprised everyone.
"I hope that people know enough about my game to know that hopefully the win at Pebble wasn't a fluke,” he added. "I feel like I've showed enough mental strength down the stretch over the years to know that if I put myself in that position I can do it. I've always said that my game matches up well to the U.S. Open-style golf course. I hope when people say 'unbelievable' they are just ecstatic for me."
Phil Mickelson and Korean Y.E. Yang, two more of the game's four current major winners, are also in this week's field and Mickelson will finally take the world No. 1 spot off Tiger Woods if he finishes first or second.
Ernie Els made a late decision to play and Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, John Daly, Camilo Villegas, last year's U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover, Tom Lehman and 18-year-old Japanese ace Ryo Ishikawa hope to make their presence felt as well. But of the leading 11 Europeans in the world, only two -- McDowell and defending champion Martin Kaymer -- are competing.
Lee Westwood had already withdrawn before the leg injury that would have ruled him out in any case, while the others are already turning their thoughts toward St. Andrews. That leaves the tournament as a massive opportunity for someone unexpected to jump into the Ryder Cup reckoning.