For Graeme McDowell, new season means a fresh start for stale game

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
For Graeme McDowell, new season means a fresh start for stale game

Graeme McDowell is going on nine months without a top 10 on any tour, so he is eager to get this year behind him and start all over again.

He gets to do both in a span of three weeks.

Last week in Hong Kong, this week in Turkey, and that will be the end of his European Tour season.

McDowell is No. 64 in the Race to Dubai, and barring a big finish at the Turkish Airlines Open, he will finish out of the top 50 in Europe for the first time since 2006.

Then it's off to the beach — Mayakoba in Mexico, Sea Island along the coast of Georgia.

The calendar says those are the final two events of the year on the PGA Tour, but McDowell knows better. They are part of the fall start to the new PGA Tour season, and they present a chance for him to get a head start.

He didn't play the PGA Tour last season until the Florida Swing, and by then he felt miles behind.

"A big part of me wants to get the year finished," McDowell said Tuesday. "But Sea Island and Mexico are going to feel like the start of 2016 to me."

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McDowell finished last year at No. 15 in the world, and he had been a fixture in the top 50 since his magical season in 2010. That was the year he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, delivered the winning point for Europe in the Ryder Cup and nearly won the Race to Dubai until he was edged out by Martin Kaymer.

This year, however, the 36-year-old struggled with the balance of being a global player and a new father.

He started at the Dubai Desert Classic and tied for ninth. That turned out to be his only top 10 this year.

"When you take your eye off the ball for just a second, you're going to get beat up," he said. "I got off to a slow start and didn't play a lot of golf. ... It's amazing how quickly the confidence goes. This game is about momentum and confidence."

McDowell slipped out of the top 50 two weeks after the U.S. Open, and he never got it back. That knocked him out of the HSBC Champions next week in Shanghai, which in effect threw him into reverse during the Race to Dubai.

Only the top 60 reach the season finale in Dubai. Only the top 10 after Dubai qualify for the bonus pool.

McDowell didn't see the point of chasing points in the Race to Dubai, which is a long shot. Instead, he wants to get an early start on a new season in America.

"I know it's not what the European Tour wants to hear," McDowell said. "But if I can get some points on the board early (on the PGA Tour), maybe that will free me up to play in the desert (Middle East Swing). It hasn't been a phenomenal year for me. I took some time off after the PGA Championship and I'm fresh. I'm keen to tee it up."

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Koepka surrenders uropean tourHe is among a growing list of international players who at least want a few PGA Tour starts before the end of the year. Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson are at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia this week. Rickie Fowler played in Las Vegas last week.

Only once in the last 10 years has McDowell played an official PGA Tour event in the fall. That was in 2011 when he went to the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island. The competition is getting stronger. The fields are deeper. And it's becoming tougher to essentially spot other players a three-month head start by waiting to play the Florida Swing.

His first PGA Tour event this year was the Honda Classic. McDowell didn't break par until the first round of the Masters.

When he arrived at the U.S. Open, he talked about wrestling with motivation after getting married, having a daughter and finding time and desire to do what brought him to such a consistently high level in the first place.

McDowell decided then he didn't want his career to be defined by the 2010 season. He wants more majors, more big Ryder Cup moments.

He is enjoying the work that goes into getting his game back where he thinks it should be. He hasn't seriously contended since returning from a six-week break after the final major, though 14 of his 16 rounds have been under par. That's a start.

Even so, he most likely would need a win to get back into the top 50 by the end of the year. That would assure him a spot in the World Golf Championship at Doral, and at the Masters. And being in the top 50 is critical for players like McDowell who have membership on the two biggest tours.

"There's a real premium on playing well when you do turn up," McDowell said. "My big focus in 2016 is on playing enough golf, but not too much. It's about staying sharp. I want to be on the Ryder Cup team. My main priority is getting back to where I needed to be, competing, and not scratching around at the bottom of the money list."

With one season ending in Europe and another already having started in America, there's no time to lose.