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February 21, 2011

Graeme McDowell


PAUL SYMES: Thanks for coming in, Graeme, and welcome.
PAUL SYMES: You showed your liking for match play last year at the Ryder Cup, but your record here isn't quite as good.
GRAEME McDOWELL: No, no, I think that's fair to say. I think I've only won one match in my -- this might be at least my 5th World Match Play, I think it's my 5th. And, yeah, I haven't exactly displayed my match play prowess so far in this golf tournament. I'm very keen to get here this year and try and change that.
I think back to the last two years, and I've played okay. I feel like my first round matches the last two years, Zach Johnson and Luke Donald last year, I played well enough to win, you know. I just ran into guys who played better than me. But that's the nature of this golf tournament. And sometimes you can play badly and win your first round match, and sometimes you can play pretty well and get beaten.
I'm very keen to get here this week and try and win a couple of games. And I think it's one of those weeks where if you can get a little momentum going, you can -- let's be honest, mathematically it's probably the easiest golf tournament you will ever win. You only need to beat six guys, but it doesn't work out that. You've got 64 great players here this week all trying to do their job. So it's obviously -- it's all about who you play on the day, very much. And 18-hole match play can be quite the battle.
PAUL SYMES: What can you expect from Heath Slocum in your first match?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Heath -- I've played a bit of golf with Heath over the last few years. He's a very, very solid player, and doesn't do a lot wrong. He's the kind of guy that will make me win the match as opposed to maybe throwing holes away. So I'll have to play solid golf to beat him. And like I say, there's 64 very good golfers here this week, and there are no slouches out there. And Heath Slocum is certainly no slouch. I've got a tough game on Wednesday.
PAUL SYMES: Potentially interesting match ups if you progress past the first round. Do you look at the draws or just the old cliché and take it one match at a time?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think it's very much one match at a time. But it's tough not to look at the permutations and have a little giggle as to who you might be seeing the next couple of days. I think if myself and Ross Fisher win our first round matches, we'll meet in the second round. So obviously Ross is a stablemate of mine and a fellow Ryder Cup team member. There's some interesting match ups, and it's difficult not to have a little grin as to the possibilities. But no doubt I think we all know we have all tough matches ahead of us on Wednesday. And of course, I mean, I'm very determined to try and get past lunchtime on Wednesday in this tournament. I've got an early tee time to go with it, this week, as well, so it could be another lunchtime debacle (laughter).

Q. I've got a couple of course-related questions. The par-3, 6th hole comes between a couple of difficult par-4s. Can you tell me how you approach that and what your strategy is, what to look out for, what the dangers are, can you win a hole there?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I mean I think that's probably a key part of the front nine, 5, 6 and 7. You know, 5 is a great par-4, two really good shots. I mean let's be honest, the greens are what it's all about around this golf course. You've got to be very smart and calculated coming into these greens and know where the pin is and knowing where to leave your ball and where not to leave your ball.
I think the 6th, the par-3, anything right of the right hand pin is in trouble. I think middle of that green or anything left side of that green is probably the place to leave it.
Yeah, 5, 6 and 7 are a very key part of No. 9.

Q. The 12th hole coming between a couple of par 5s, how does a par-3 play with relation to the par-5s, with the elevation change, there's a wind factor on the hole, and the green is not that easy to hold?
GRAEME McDOWELL: It plays a little shorter than the par-5s, the par-3 (laughter.) It's a good hole, 12th. Downhill shot, obviously, to a quite shallow little green; over the back is no good. So you really want to keep it short of the pin there. You know, it's match play, so you're always reacting. If your opponent stands up there and stiffs one in there, of course you're going to take that aim. It's a good hole.
Like I say, this golf course is all about the greens, and you've got to be very smart coming into these putting surfaces because they are pretty undulating. If you get the wrong side of a slope you can be in big trouble. The way I see this golf course, you've got to drive the ball extremely well, that's a huge tool, if you can use that effectively around this golf course. And really be smart going into the greens and chip and putt well, and try to play better than the other guy.

Q. Can you think of a specific example where, in match play, either at this event or another match play event you've played absolutely great or quite well for you and lost? Or you've played really quite mediocre and won?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Tough to pick examples, you know. We get -- we really get so little chance to play match play golf these days as a professional. Obviously stroke play is the ultimate test. But there's something quite special about the mano e mano value of match play golf, it's a great format. It's very reactionary. I think that's why we all love the Ryder Cup so much and tournaments like that, because that match play element is a bit special. But I can't really think off the top of my head. Like I say, my match play record in this one, I haven't really got too much experience to draw on. I think, what, five losses and one win so far. And my only win coming against Darren Clarke, quite humorously.
But, you know, like I say, I've been licking my wounds about noon on Wednesday for the last two years. I haven't ran into two guys who played -- I probably shot in the 67, 68 region and got beaten. You hear of guys shooting 73 and winning. But you can only do what you can do against your opponent. And like I say, hopefully I'll be able to get a few runs under my belt this week and build up my experience in this tournament.

Q. You have a very lighthearted personality. And I'm wondering if you can describe how you manage the transition to the intensity of professional golf. How can you play at that level and still maintain who you are?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I mean, you know, it's a sport. We work extremely hard off the golf course so that we can go and try and do our jobs on the course. I think if you're not lighthearted about what you do I think, you know, you're going to -- it's very difficult to take bad days. I think you have to be certainly -- keep it real. I try to do that. But, yeah, you know, we're out here, we're trying to play, you know, playing golf at the highest level. And like I say, my thought is if I work hard and prepare myself well, I can accept anything that happens on the golf course. That's kind of what I go on.
There's probably a lot of guys who maybe take the game a little too seriously. Of course you take it serious to a certain extent, but you've got to let yourself off the hook as well sometimes. I try to do that. It's great. I'm certainly enjoying my life right now. I'm playing golf at the business end, playing the best events in the world against the best players, on great golf courses like this one. It's lighthearted, call it what you want. I'm having fun. I love what I do. I feel very fortunate doing what I'm doing.

Q. What did the break do for you, and what did you do for you on your break?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I had four weeks, there. I'm not quite sure where they went. It was just really -- it was kind of -- it was weird, I had so many people coming up to me over the break and saying why are you not in Dubai, why are you not in Phoenix, why are you not in San Diego.
It's crazy, you really can play every week, there's so many great golf tournaments around the world, so many opportunities for you. But you've got to force yourself to pace yourself. The schedule I played in the end of last season and starting as early as this year, unfortunately I had to force myself to take a bit of time off. I didn't want to. I was playing well and enjoying what I was doing. And I wasn't feeling particularly tired. The break certainly didn't feel like something I needed to take, but I felt like for my freshness and just general sanity, I had to go and wear a little groove on my couch for a couple of weeks and watch some TV and just hang out really.
I was in Orlando. I did a lot of work on my new house, just as far as being onsite and making some decisions on that, it was great to be doing that. I went to the Super Bowl, spent a couple of days in Dallas watching that and it was pretty amazing. I watched a lot of sports. I played a little bit of golf on and off. And this last sort of ten days I've been kind of gearing myself back up a little bit.
It was quite a chilled out break. People ask me what I do on my time off. But I feel we have such an intense lifestyle out here, there's nothing better than just putting the feet up for a few days, and doing as little as possible, watching some movies. I love watching movies, and I just like to chill out and watch a lot of sports.

Q. I know you like using Twitter at the moment, and I think somebody asked you the other day about The Masters and the tip, and I think you picked Rory McIlroy, is that right?

Q. I wonder, being Rory McIlroy, 21 years of age, and tipped to win the Masters, talking about fun and all the rest of it, is there a danger of Rory being overtaken by the pressure he's under and the expectations people have of him?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think Rory handles himself extremely well for a 21 year old kid. Like you say, he was tipped for not just stardom, but he's tipped for the highest rankings possible. I mean I think he's one of the most talented players ever I've had the pleasure of playing with. Yeah, he's only won twice, but he's a young man, and he's No. 7 player in the world. So he's got there with consistency, as opposed to just having big weeks here and there. He's a hell of a consistent player.
I played with him this morning. He makes the game look incredibly easy. And I think he's got a game that probably suits the like of Augusta. The way he drives the ball, it's only a matter of time before he gets his head around a golf course like Augusta.
Yeah, his golf brain is young, but he makes up for it with a lot of talent and skill. And once the golf brain matures, and he keeps coming to golf courses like this, and Augusta, and Open golf courses, it's only a matter of time until he gets his head around and it understands how to control his talent. And it's going to be pretty scary what the guy can achieve.
That's great. I think we've got a lot of young players coming through like Rory, Rickie Fowlers, Ryo Ishikawas, and Matteo Manasseros, I think the game is really healthy. We've got a lot of super stars in the making. And it's been great to match Rory's career unfold the last few years, and to watch it unfold the next ten years, I think he can really be a great player.

Q. With all that you've accomplished last year, extraordinary year, what did the win at Chevron in the playoff with Tiger, as you look back on it now, what did that add to your sense of accomplishment for last year?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, it's just -- it really just put the icing on the cake, really, if you like. I mean last year was an amazing season, you know. The Ryder Cup and the U.S. Open were two of the most amazing moments that I maybe ever will have in my career, and I've got to cherish those moments, for sure.
The Chevron was pretty special in its own way. It's amazing how many people switched across from their NFL football game here in the States and flicked across to watch the next episode of the Tiger Woods show, and it was just great to be a part of that.
I've had a huge amount of recognition from that, just to be the guy to hole a couple of Tigeresque putts against Tiger. It's a lot of fun. The Chevron is a very lighthearted tournament, and we play for a lot of money and we take it seriously. And you can believe Tiger and I were playing tough that weekend.
But, yeah, it was the icing on the cake. But, you know, I certainly wouldn't put it up there with Pebble or the Ryder Cup. But it was pretty cool.

Q. Just looking back at that, lots of people pointed out the fact that Stevie Williams took his bib off when you were playing regulation, you were aware of that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I caught him. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. You know, that's kind of a move that Stevie likes to do. And that's up to him, he has his own reasons for doing that. We have great sponsors for these golf tournaments, and I just -- I don't think it's particularly nice, but, you know, he did it, whatever.

Q. Did that make you even more determined at that point, well, all right, I'll show you up at this putt, and you can put the bib back on?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, a few people have asked me did I hole that putt and say put that bib back on, Stevie. I wish I had done something that cool, but he's a big guy and I don't want to mess with him. Didn't want to get my ass kicked on the 19th green (laughter.) No, I was pretty determined. I remember seeing him with the bib off. And I remember not really registering, like I say, because it has pretty normal. He does that, I don't know why. But it made it all more cool. And Stevie is a tough guy. He's been around a long time. And he plays his role when it comes to Sunday afternoon stretch with Tiger. He's an intimidating caddie. Not that -- he's a sportsman, you know. Both him and Tiger both are. But that was even more sweet when he had to put that thing back on. I don't think he took it off on the first playoff hole if I remember correctly.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about the European Tour and the PGA TOUR and minimum events or maximum events for nonmembers and Lee not playing THE PLAYERS Championship and Rory I guess not playing THE PLAYERS Championship. I was wondering if you had a take on that. If there's something we should be sort of learning from Lee and Rory not playing THE PLAYERS? Is it a question of just the number of events that they should be allowed or what is it exactly? Is the antagonism between the Tours a good thing, a bad thing?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I think the antagonism is perceived antagonism, really. Of course the European Tour is very protective of its Tour and the PGA is very protective of their Tour. And they should be. They should reward their members. I'm totally a believer in that, for sure. I believe members of the Tour should be well looked after and be protected.
But, you know, I completely respect Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy's decision to not play the TPC. I'm personally a big fan of the tournament. I think it's a very special championship. And some great names have won that. I look forward to that every year.
But Lee Westwood's schedule is Lee Westwood's schedule. And he picks that schedule because he wants to be the best he can be and he wants to be ready every week. And so has Rory. And Rory has said he doesn't like the golf course. That's absolutely fair enough for me. Again, his schedule is his schedule. And everyone has their personal preferences of where they want to play and how much they want to play.
I think there's maybe been a little bit of media perhaps blowing it up into something it's not. I don't think there's any antagonism there. The best players in the world want to play against each other as often as possible. And I think it is what it is, really.

Q. Should non-members, like Lee, be allowed to play maybe 12 instead of 10, would that alleviate the whole situation?
GRAEME McDOWELL: It's tough to say. I mean that's entirely up to the PGA TOUR, you though. That's up to them how much they want Lee Westwood in their field, you know. I can't imagine you wouldn't want the best player in the world to come and play in their golf tournaments, and I certainly know the sponsors want the best players to be there. But I understand the PGA feels they want to protect themselves, then so be it. But I think golf is increasingly becoming such a global game and it will continue to be a global game, I think it's going to get stronger and stronger, both from a corporate market and from the number of quality golfers they're going to produce.
So I think, you know, it feels like it's an "us versus them" mentality regards Europe versus America. But it's not like that. Golf is a global game. And it's just great -- I feel proud of the international appeal of golf right now, I think that's what we should concentrate on, really.

Q. Rory was just in here and he was talking about you as a thinker out there. And that you and him have pretty different approaches to courses. As the favorite of the group, how do you handle this one?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, you know, I probably would have a slightly different game plan if I drove it like Rory does. He flies it about another 40 further than I do and pretty straight, too. But how do I think my way around this golf course, is that what you're saying?

Q. Yes.
GRAEME McDOWELL: There's definitely a few tee shots on this golf course which help if you can fly it 300. But, you know, I'm playing early on Wednesday. The golf course plays different in the mornings here, no doubt about it, it plays a hell of a lot longer. But this golf course, yeah, you've got to drive it good, that really helps. But it really is very much a second shot golf course.

Q. Can you tell us about the time you had a sponsors exemption to play here in Tucson?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, that was many years ago. It was the Tucson Open. I don't remember what golf course it was at. Tucson National, perhaps. Yeah, I remember it was 2003, 2004, I was a pretty young kid and still finding my way around the States. And yeah, that was probably my first appearance in Tucson. I made the cut and played okay, I think. I can't remember.

Q. You were just reminiscing there a little bit about the Chevron, and Steve Williams and what happened there. But there has been a lot of chat about Tiger Woods over the past 12 months, obviously. Not a lot of respect, it seems to me, from the players as a competitor. Do you notice that amongst your peers, or is it guys from Tiger's generation seem to be more respectful and the younger guys maybe have lost a little bit of the awe factor in regards to Tiger?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I mean I can only judge Tiger Woods by what I know about Tiger Woods. And, you know, what I have learned personally from him. I only know the guy as an on-the-golf course guy, really. I don't really spend any time with him off the course. And all I can judge him on is his on course stuff. He's a gentleman. And like I say, he's a gentleman to play with, always very complimentary. He's a good sportsman.
Like I say, that weekend at the Chevron, you know, he seems to enjoy a battle. Like I say, I mean you've got to have respect for what he's done in the game, for sure. Episodes like Sunday in Dubai, we all make mistakes. We all do things that maybe people at home maybe would frown upon. And it's just one of those things. But like I say, I've got a lot of respect for what he's done in the game and what he's done for the game of golf globally. He's a pretty awesome player. And I certainly think that it's great for the game.
I think in many ways it's great for the game that we have this little saga going on regards to when he's going to win again. I think it's great for the game if he comes back and starts winning again. I certainly feel privileged to be playing golf in the Tiger Woods era. It's certainly made the game financially lucrative. And it's made the game exciting and brought fans to the sports. As players I guess we can be thankful for that.

Q. Now that you've got the U.S. Open under your belt, you'll never have to be answering questions about the best player never to win a Major. Do you have an understanding for what Sergio is going through in his career, and what Monty put up with for a long time?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Obviously tough to really kind of empathize because Colin Montgomerie was a hell of a player, 8, 9 Order of Merit titles, and had so many near misses at major championships.
And Sergio, I mean, what was his best World Ranking, 2, 3? A great player, also. And I've never perhaps reached those heights quite yet. And like I say, thankfully I've got my major safely tucked under my belt. I have to loosen it a notch, but slip it in there.
Of course, that's a horrible tag, it's also a nice tag, because it means you're a great player, if you're the greatest player never to have won a Major. Yeah, I could think of worst tags. It would be tough to deal with. Obviously I've been watching Sergio's career the last few years. He's definitely the kind of character we need back to his best. He's great for the game. He's great for the sport. I have a lot of respect for him coming on board of the Ryder Cup last year, and coming on as assistant captain. That's tough for a guy to do. A guy who is at the top of the world's game and has to take a step back like that and really sort of gained a lot of respect for him that week, I thought it was pretty impressive.

Q. You were speaking of global golf. I know your home course in Ireland won -- not the course, it's in a group, I guess. It won destination for Europe, for golf resorts. Did you have something to do with that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I had nothing to contribute there. Apart from living there and probably taking a few pounds of sods out of that and the surrounding links. I'm proud of the part of the world I come from. I meet many people especially here in the U.S. who traveled in Ireland and never made it to the north coast. And I'm sure there were reasons for that, political and a lot of things that were going back in the '80s and '90s. But I certainly point them in the direction of the north coast and northwest coast and tell them to check out our golf courses, it's a pretty cool part of the world.

Q. Just wanted to ask you about the World Rankings. You're ranked ahead of Phil Mickelson. Do you feel like you're a better player than Phil Mickelson?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, it's -- Phil is a hell of a player. The World Rankings, you know, definitely, I have been a better player than Phil the last ten months, but I've got to maintain that. That's certainly one of my goals here, and going forward it's to try to keep playing consistent golf and maintain my world rankings. I'm not the a big guy who wakes up in the morning and flips on the world rankings, it's just a sort of check it out and see. But it's no God-given right. You've got to continue working hard. And of course I'm very proud to be the 4th best player in the world, it's kind of fun. But got to keep going, got to keep playing, there's a lot of quality players snapping at my heels.
PAUL SYMES: Thank you.

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