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March 7, 2019

Graeme McDowell

Orlando, Florida

Q. Nice turn around. You came out of the gates stumbling a bit, bogeying two out of your first three. How were you able to turn things around mentally?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It was cold early on and both sides of this golf course is kind of a tough start. I bogeyed 2 and I got a mud ball on 3 and I got a little lucky, hit the rocks, came back out, made bogey. But managed to make a few putts, kind of steadied the round a little bit. Didn't drive the ball very well last week at Honda and managed to straighten that out a little bit today. It's really important that you hit fairways this week here at Bay Hill. The rough is pretty lush and with the greens being so firm you just have zero control unless you're in the fairway. So the big key today was getting the ball in play and my iron play was pretty sharp after that and I made some putts too.

Q. There's a little bit of a tournament within the tournament here. Of course The Open Championship is going to Royal Portrush, this is an open qualifying series, you're not right now in the field. How much is that rattling around in your mind to keep your head in the game this opening qualifying series here in this tournament?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I only found that out on Tuesday, to be honest with you. But, listen, I'm focusing really on the big picture right now. I'm kind of the opinion that good golf will take care of the things that I want to take care of. And it's hard enough going out there trying to get your golf ball around 18 holes here at this great golf course and just trying to stay in the moment, stay in the present. Of course the big goal this year is to be at Portrush and to play The Open Championship in my hometown six weeks after Pebble, the U.S. Open. So it's going to be a special summer, if I can get myself there. And the game's there right now, I just got to get out of my own way and have a little fun with it and not have things like that rattle around in my head too much. But thanks for reminding me.

Q. A bit of a shaky start with a couple of bogeys there. What turned it around for you in the round and helped to get it over with early too?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: In a funny way I, my second shot to 3 hit the rocks, came back in the fairway, hit a good chip in there, nearly made par. Probably turned -- could have been five, could have been five and a half, maybe six, if I hadn't came out of the rocks. I think just acknowledging the fact that this golf course is tough when it's cold in the morning, it's a tough start on both sides, and managed to get it up-and-down on 4 and birdie 6 and that kind of steadied the ship a little bit. And I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens after that and managed to make some putts.

Q. You made eagle on 16, almost followed it up with two other birdies. Those were nice looking putts, maybe a little bit more the one on 17. And then 18 you looked a little angry at yourself on that one.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: A little bit of a misread on 18. It's like -- it's not like we haven't saw that putt into the corner a few times. I'm certain Tiger Woods has made that putt a few times in that corner. But it just swung a lot more than I expected. But all in all really happy with that opening round. Like you mentioned, slow start, but it all bodes well. Like I say, I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens today and that's kind of what you got to keep doing out here.

Q. I overheard you say that your game's where it needs to be and how much does that help you in confidence going into a second round after a round like today?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, listen, I've been working hard on my game the last couple years, starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. It's a tough old game, these guys are awfully good, these courses are tough, and when you're a little low on confidence, when you haven't really seen the things that you expect to see from yourself for awhile, it's tough to get out of your own way. But I'm trying and I'm very close.

Q. What's the balance between being inspired by The Open Championship this summer and not playing it getting in your way, is that tricky?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Not really. Not really. Because if I let Portrush get into my mind like you said the balance will become imbalance. I haven't played very well historically with a gun to my head, if you like, I'm more of a guy who likes to try and look at the big picture and let things happen. I haven't done a good job the last couple years of just trying to get certain things out of my head. Like trying to get into the top 125 in the FedExCup and get myself back up in the top 100 in the world. And I haven't really -- I haven't done a good job when I put pressure on myself. So I'm trying to do the opposite right now. I'm just trying to take a little pressure off myself and just realize that I love this game, I love being out there and I love doing what I do. Like I mentioned, trying to get out of my on way, it's one of those great cliches in golf that can mean a lot of things but for me it's just trying to understand that I got to take the pressure off my shoulders a little bit, it's, my career so far has been pretty solid. If it ends now, so be it, but I'm going to enjoy what I have while I have it because if it was gone tomorrow, I would miss it. So I'm trying to embrace the challenge right now and enjoy the process of turning it out of the little hole I've dug myself into and I'm starting to play some good golf, I'm starting to like the way I'm hitting it and I would love to have a great year and obviously get myself to Portrush at the end of that road.

Q. Were you aware, it's new this year at this event, but this is a qualifying event.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I only found out on Tuesday. My agent, we were just looking through the schedule and we were talking about ways into The Open Championship and she said, oh, there's three spots up for grabs this week at Bay Hill. And I'm like, really, okay. So I didn't know that. Obviously with Mastercard's relationship with the Open Championship it kind of makes sense and I think it's a great thing that we have the spots here. It really kind of solidifies their relationship with that tournament, but listen, I got a lot of work to do this week, got a lot of work to do tomorrow, just trying to like I say look at the big picture, take the pressure off myself, it's hard to do. It's hard to do because I want it really badly, I want to be back up there competing with these guys and I do feel like I have some good stuff in me. But I've had to ask myself some pretty hard questions the last couple years. Thankfully I've came to the conclusion that if it was all gone, I would miss it. So, you know what, let's try and enjoy it while it's here. It's an opportunity. It's not an opportunity to beat my head against the wall, it's an opportunity to try and dig myself out of a hole and look at that challenge as something to be enjoyed and it's going to be very rewarding when I do get out of it.

Q. Does it help coming back to a course and a tournament that's been good for your career in the past?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think so. It's always nice to come to golf courses like this where, yeah, I've had a little bit of success, difficult golf course, obviously as well. Interesting to see a lot of Europeans playing well here. It's a real fairway and green golf course. The rough's very penal this week and the greens are very firm. A bit like last week in many ways, like the Honda. I normally relish the challenge of the Honda, but I drove it horrendously last week, just out of the blue. I've been driving the ball very, very well. But nice to come in here this week kind of get the driver back, kind of where I needed to be, hit some fairway, hit some good irons today. And it's nice to be sort of -- I got a lot of my family and friends out here watching me today and talking about trying to take that pressure off my shoulders, you got the expectations of the wife out there staring me down. So, no, it's nice to play well, like you say, always nice to come back to a golf course that you had some good memories on and certainly asks a lot of questions, this golf course, there's half a dozen shots out there where you're like, this is a good one, I got to stand here and hit a golf shot right now. So that's kind of what I need right now, I need to look up and see that ball going where I expect it to and that's the little kind of X factor that's missing in my game right now is just that little belief level.

Q. You've always liked playing in this tournament though.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Oh, this is great.

Q. It was one of your first like successes in America, wasn't it?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I finished second here in 2005 and I think I bought my house in Lake Nona the week after. This tournament's the reason why I live in Orlando to be honest with you. Obviously my wife's from here too, so she's probably a bigger reason now. But this is, this tournament's very special to me in a lot of levels. Some great memories here, playing with Tiger the last 36 in 2012 or 2013 when he won his first event back after kind of everything that went down. I've got a lot of great memories here. Obviously Mr. Palmer and everything he's meant to golf and my relationship with Mastercard, there's a lot of reasons why I like this place.

Q. Is it an easier or tougher week when it's a home game for you?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: That was interesting. I was dying to get to my bed last night with an early start. And I had to put my little man to bed last night and he was, he had a lot more energy than me and I'm like, gee, trying to get him to sleep, my son. No, I, I think I enjoy the home game. I'll do my things here right now and I'll go straight back over to Lake Nona and practice over there. It gets you away from the hustle and bustle and nice to, it's nice to be around the family, especially when you have young children, it's great to be able to have a work week to be at home and be with them as well. So I certainly enjoy being at home this week and slept nicely in my own bed last night, it feels pretty good.

Q. (No Microphone.)
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It's literally just life. Life. Life just got in the way. Mostly the family stuff and I don't think I ever sat back and rested on my laurels and thought I was -- I just, my practice changed, my, the time that I was giving to the game changed and I was less effective in what I was doing. It snuck up on me. It sort of happened before I realize it had happened, but it's just life, you know, life just got in the way and it's hard to get it back. I've been chipping at it, but it's hard to get it back. But like I say, trying to enjoy that process of digging myself back up there.

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