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March 4, 2020

Graeme McDowell

Orlando, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Graeme McDowell to the interview room here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. You're making your 13th start here this week. Just some thoughts on being back here at Bay Hill.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, one of my favorite weeks of the year. Home event. Get to stay at home with my family. Some great history here, a couple of second place finishes. Obviously, my relationship with Mastercard. Just a lot of reasons to be here. Course looks great. Prepared for another, hopefully another great tournament. Like I say, just game's in good shape, excited to be here, looking forward to he hopefully competing.

THE MODERATOR: Four top-25s this year. Where would you say your game's at.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think it's trending in the right direction. The 4th in Sony was important. The win in Saudi was very important. I've kind of had a couple weeks now to reset and get ready and I'm kind of, I've got a busy few months coming up, so I'm ready to play golf. I'm focused and I'm motivated. And it's so much great golf to play here, so it's a good time of the year to be feeling good and looking forward to playing and competing and I'm excited about what the next six months could hold.

THE MODERATOR: Open it up for some questions, please.

Q. Are you thinking about Ryder Cup already?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Am I thinking about Ryder Cup?

Q. Already.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think we're always thinking about Ryder Cup to a certain extent. I think there's no doubt it would be a massive goal to play on the team this year. I missed the last two. I certainly put myself back on the radar for this year, but I've got a lot of work to do. There's a lot of great young players. It's a lot of fun to see guys like myself and Lee Westwood and even Adam Scott, obviously, he's not a Ryder Cup player, but guys winning in their 40s. It's a nice flavor to start off 2020 and, you know, the Ryder Cup will get in the way if I play the way I know I can play and do the things I know I can do. So it's, we'll see what happens. A lot of golf to play. Four major championships ahead of us and lots and lots of great golf to play. So, listen, I would love to be in Whistling Straits, it goes without saying.

Q. The key this week, is it off the tee, just keeping it out of the rough, would you say?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think so. Looking at the forecast tomorrow, I think we're going to have to get through a really tricky tough day tomorrow with 20 mile an hour gusts in the morning and 30 miles an hours in the afternoon. The rough is thick. Driving the ball is going to be a massive premium this week. I think in and around the greens it's not as tough as I've seen it. There's quite a nice bit of grass to chip off around the greens, and the bunkers are very nice. So I think big premium on driving the ball well, giving yourself a chance to attack the greens, and controlling the ball well in the wind tomorrow. I think tomorrow's going to be a key day. I think tomorrow's a day where you could play yourself way out of this thing right away. So thankfully played a lot of good wind golf this year, this season. Felt like Hawaii, a couple weeks in the wind, blew in Saudi, pretty happy the way my wind game looks, so very, very important to get off to a good start tomorrow.

Q. Do you use data at all in either course management or in like allocating your practice time? And if so, how have they affected what you do in those areas?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah. Did you say data?

Q. Yeah, like ShotLink?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, like stats. Yeah, I mean, I think we have, I've always used some form of statistical analysis into my game. I think instinctively between myself and my caddie we always have a fairly good idea where we're at, but it's nice to look at some numbers to back up, because you can get a little, you can get a little blinded out there thinking I'm not putting well, when in actual fact you're hitting a lot of irons, a lot of great iron shots and you're giving yourself a lot of 15-, 20-feet looks that you're not going to make a lot of, and therefore you think you're putting badly. So that's just an example of how you can get a little blinded by what you think's going wrong. But, no, sort of areas that I've been looking at, proximity to the hole, just around the greens, for example. I have a tendency to be a very good scrambler, but I don't chip the ball close enough to the hole very often. And that has a wearing affect on the putter when you have 5 and 6 and 7 feet all day. So trying to be a little tighter around the greens, giving myself easier up-and-down opportunities has been something I've been working on, just as an example of using some of the data and some of the numbers to try and find areas in my game where I can just tighten up a little bit.

Q. What about for a course management?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For course management? Not really. I mean, again, instinctively I think myself and my caddie are pretty good at taking a course apart and understanding where to miss and where not to miss. I think some of these little overhead maps where you see the little dot kind of maps where areas where guys are getting it up-and-down and areas where guys are not getting it up-and-down, I think those are very useful, especially on a golf course which I don't maybe know very well. So, say, at a tournament where I haven't played the course much, I may have a look at the computer on a Thursday morning and just try and see where guys are missing it and areas, what are they doing off tees, playing aggressively, and stuff. Those are very, very interesting, but I feel like it's something I've always naturally done anyway. I feel like I'm pretty good at understanding where I should be missing the ball and trying not to overcomplicate it. It's a hard enough game. You don't really need too much stuff in the head at times.

Q. Speaking about hitting the ball toward the hole and whatnot, can you talk about how hard it is to actually hit the ball inside 10 feet on a regular basis. I mean, that's really difficult.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: That really depends how far away from the hole you are to start with, obviously. Yeah, listen, I mean, proximity is important. They say 7 feet is that kind of threshold number where putting stats really start to skew and start to kind of fall off a cliff. So really from inside of a hundred yards those proximity numbers become highly important because those are your -- that's your conversion, your conversion area, where you're getting the ball up-and-down on a regular basis. So from longer range, obviously, just managing it well and trying to be as tight as you possibly can. But from inside of a hundred yards it's, that 10 feet number, that 7 feet number becomes very important.

Q. In this stretch of schedule where you've got two World Golf Championship events, THE PLAYERS, this, other strong Florida swing events, what makes this tournament stand out and how hard is it for players? I know you're a main stay, but how hard is it for players to decide what to play and what not to play?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure, I think you look at this stretch and you could argue that it's maybe a little too strong. When you look at the stretch maybe between Augusta and PGA and PGA to U.S. Open, not trying to disrespect any of those events in that window, but there's a lot of golf right now. You've got an unbelievably good Florida swing sandwiched between two WGC events. I live in Florida, so I love the Florida swing. I didn't play the Honda last week for the first time in 10 years. I regretted not playing the Honda. I went to Mexico instead. Saudi got me into Mexico. I went down there. I didn't play well. I was, like, totally wished I would have skipped that event. Like, skipping WGC events it's just historically something you didn't really ever think about, but I think the value of the WGC has been reduced because the strength of everything else around it has got so much stronger. So the long and short of it is, outside of the major championships, there's so many great tournaments and scheduling becomes very difficult. So like I say, hindsight's 20/20. I wish I hadn't gone to Mexico. I wish I would have taken a week to reset and gone to the Honda. I think I would have loved it down there, just the way it played, seeing so many Europeans on the board. It's so hard to pick and choose. I'm going to skip Tampa. It's not an event I typically skip, because I want to be ready for the Match Play and I'll play Valero as well. So there's a lot of golf. And unfortunately big events are suffering. It looks like Tampa's got a great field. Honda, maybe not so much last week. Obviously, next week's a huge week. Really looking at that, trying to take that as a major championship approach going into the PLAYERS. So very, very hard to pick and choose right now because this is such a strong part of the year.

Q. Considering that, is 13 out of 25 choosing to play here, is that a pretty good number when you consider all the other moving parts?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: 13 out of 25 what? Sorry.

Q. 13 out of the top 25 in the World Rankings.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Are here this week at Bay Hill?

Q. Yes.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I mean, that's great. I mean, obviously, being a Mastercard guy and being one of the tournament ambassadors in the beginning after Mr. Palmer passed away, the big thing was how do we keep this event as a premier event, how do we carry the legacy forward. Obviously, the golf course can be a little sort of divisive. Some guys love it, some guys don't love it. It's a strong field this week, but because of all of the other events around it, it's maybe not as strong as it could be. But, listen, I love this event. I'm happy for Mastercard and Bay Hill that they have got the kind of event they have this week and hopefully it continues to be a strong event.

Q. Whether you're aware of this or not, you were No. 255 in the world when you left Bay Hill last year. What happened?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: (Laughing.) Yeah, I mean, Bay Hill was a very pivotal week for me here last year because The Open Championship conversation began here last year. There was some open spots up for grabs here, and I got off to a pretty good start and I blew out on Sunday and I was very disappointed. So, yeah, I do remember the emotions I was going through this time last year, for sure. It was difficult. The game wasn't really, felt like where it needed to be. I suppose I'd go and win in Dominican Republic in three weeks' time, two weeks' time. But I was sort of trending in the right direction, but emotionally I just was, you know, I was, somebody beat me up. I just couldn't seem to, I couldn't seem to kind of get out of that, get out that have 25th and 30th funk that was in. I was in run of 25ths and 30ths and 40ths. I was feeling like I was playing well, but then I would look at the check at the end of the week and go, you know, 30ths just don't cut it. I would go and win in Dominican. I wouldn't you really have a good summer, but it kind of led me to kind of having a little soul search, getting a new coach, started hitting the reset button a little bit, and I've been really happy with the progress I've made. It's not really been over a 12-month period. It's really been since last August, I suppose, so it's been a five-, six-month period, which brings me to here, obviously, in a very different place, 200 places in the World Ranking better than I was last year and feeling like I can go out and really, really compete. And if I'm there on a Sunday afternoon, I might actually know what to do this year. So just have a lot more belief, a lot more confidence in what I'm doing, which is, obviously, those intangibles that you can't really learn on the range. You just have to be out there. You got to test yourself.

Q. And winning Saudi, how much did that change your outlook on the entire year?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It changed my schedule a lot, for sure. It takes the pressure off trying to get into events like The Open Championship. I should be, barring a monumental collapse between now and July, I mean, I should be in pretty good shape for The Open Championship. It should get me in the PGA. Obviously nice to add events like the Match Play and FedEx St. Jude as well. And let's be honest, if I have aspirations of making the team at Whistling Straights, I'm not going to be able to do it if I'm not in though those events. So it really maps my schedule out. It gives me an opportunity to pick and choose where I want to play, get myself ready for the events I want to be ready for and peak for. Schedule's everything. When you've got that top-50 schedule, which I'm right on the borderline of having that again, and it just really makes the year so much more planable and really allows you to be able to peak better and rest up where you need to and just know that you're going to be playing against the best players in the world more often.

Q. And lastly, is your schedule for the next month set in stone or would you make or be willing to make any alteration if you needed it related to Augusta?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I mean, Augusta's the only moving piece of the puzzle the next couple months. I have to be top-50 in the world the Monday after Match Play. You probably know that more than I do. It's not going to be the be-all and end-all for me. I love Augusta. It is my favorite course in the world. It doesn't love me very much, though. But if I'm not there, it's not going to, it's not going to dampen any spirits or anything that's happened in the next three or four months. It will get in the way if I play the kind of golf I know I can play the next few weeks. And I would love to be there. I want to see my kids in boiler suits. That's kind of the visual. I haven't had a chance to do the par-3 with my kids yet because I haven't played the last few years. So I want to have the kids up at Augusta this year. That would be fun. But like I say, it's not going to change my life here in the short-term.

THE MODERATOR: All right, Graeme. Thanks for the time. Best of luck this week.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Thank you. Thanks, guys.

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