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Paul McGinley had started to wonder whether he would ever contend again. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Paul McGinley had started to wonder whether he would ever contend again. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

McGinley conquers his 'mediocrity,' at least for a day

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After a career year in 2005, Paul McGinley slipped all the way down to No. 96 in the world rankings. A quick session with Dr. Bob Rotella and a Thursday 67 that surprised even him have the 2002 Ryder Cup hero feeling much better.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- The game of golf has been a struggle for Ireland's Paul McGinley over the last two seasons.

After a career year in 2005 that saw him rise to No. 3 on the European Tour's Order of Merit, the Ryder Cup hero -- a member of three consecutive winning European teams -- finished outside the top 50 in 2006 and heading into this week's 136th Open Championship sat at No. 96.

That's why McGinley's 4-under-par 67 at Carnoustie, which gave him the early clubhouse lead in the first round on Thursday, was such a surprise to him and his supporters.

"It obviously feels wonderful to be leading a major championship halfway through the first round," said the four-time European Tour winner a few hours before Sergio Garcia carded his 65. "I'm very pleased because my golf hasn't been great for most of this year. I've been making a lot of cuts but not performing with a lot of quality. The thing that pleased me most was I played with quality today, and it's a pretty good tournament to do it in."

Along with six birdies, the 40-year-old McGinley had just two bogeys on his card, which came back-to-back on hole Nos. 15 and 16. His opening-round score was four shots better than that of Australia's Rod Pampling, who led with an even-par 72 after the first round of the 1999 Open here.

"I wish I knew. It's a best-kept secret. I don't know," said McGinley, still trying to figure out where this round came from on arguably the most difficult course in the Open rotation. "I found the swing key this morning on the practice ground. Something that I worked on before in my swing which sort of clicked into place. I was able to go with it and got a great start, obviously, great momentum. When you birdie the first two holes of a British Open, it's a great buzz."

With the adrenaline flowing after the birdie-birdie start, the Irishman who hasn't finished better than a tie for 25th this year, snatched up two more birdies and went out in 4-under-par 32.

Following his round, McGinley said that along with the swing key that he put in place, he's also spent a lot of time talking to countryman Padraig Harrington, as well as mental guru, Dr. Bob Rotella.

"I spent an hour with him [Rotella] yesterday, which is the first time I've met him. I've met him before, but it was Padraig who put him on to me, as I say," said McGinley. "I played with Padraig this week, and he's been on the phone talking to me. I spent an hour with him. Did he tell me something I didn't already know? Not really, no. But he sort of reinforced what I did when I play well.

"When I got the good start today and I started hitting the ball well, I was able to kick on because I know what to do when things are going right, you've got to know what to do and fortunately I did," he explained. "Things were going for me, the ball was rolling for me. I was able to see my shots and play my shots. I basically stayed out of my way and not try too hard and be too aggressive. All those things sort of kicked into place."

McGinley said his plummet from the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2005, all the way down to No. 170 -- where he stood entering the Open Championship -- has been extremely frustrating.

There were times, McGinley admitted, where he wondered whether or not he'd ever contend again. It's been a humbling set of circumstances for the man who was the toast of Europe after holing the clinching putt to seal the first of three consecutive wins for the Europeans in the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry.

"It's been hugely disappointing, I can't tell you how much. It's really hit me hard," he said. "It's been horrible to be up there to the top 20 in the world, and to plummet as quickly as I have done. It has been a plummet. I've made 90 percent of the cuts. But making putts doesn't do you any good in terms of ranking or Order of Merit position. It's about the big finishes. Big finishes are about what this game is all about. You can make cuts and finish 15th, 20th or 30th, but you're going to slowly slide down the World Rankings.

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"It's not like I've gone way off the planet and missed every cut. But I've played a lot of mediocre golf, and that's what's hurt me. I haven't had the big weeks in the last 18 months that I did have before," he explained. "Everybody lives for big weeks of three or four weeks when things go right. I haven't had any of those. That's what's hurt me most.

"It hasn't been that my game has completely fallen apart, it's that I've missed having those three or four big weeks a season, which obviously propel you way up the Order of Merit and give you a huge amount of World Ranking points," he added.

McGinley said he sums up his struggles in a saying he remembers hearing from Tom Weiskopf -- when he was playing well, he could never understand how he ever played badly and when he was playing badly, he could never understand how he played well.

While Thursday's 67 was a brilliant round at a trying course, McGinley left optimistic, but understood there's still plenty of work to be done.

"I've had a great start, but it's three big days to go, and this golf course is so difficult and relentless," he said. "There's a long, long way to go. A long, long way to go. Yes, I've had a great start. But we're not even at the end of the front nine yet."

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