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May 10, 2011

Graeme McDowell


NELSON SILVERIO: Welcome, Graeme McDowell, to the interview room here at THE PLAYERS Championship. It's your fourth appearance here at THE PLAYERS. Why don't you talk about coming back to this event and maybe just some thoughts on your year so far.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, always an event I enjoy coming back to. You know, one of the very special golf tournaments here on the PGA TOUR, and it's a golf course -- my record is not particularly outstanding here, I don't think, but it's a golf course I always feel like I can get around. It's a golf course that fits my eye.
It is a very exciting course, of course. The guy who wins here on Sunday afternoon will probably have played one of the toughest finishes in world golf perhaps, dramatic anyway. You can certainly birdie the last three holes here at TPC, but you can always make a mess of them, as well.
But just a great tournament, got a great feel to it, just a great list of players here. And the golf course is in great shape, as always. I think it's going to be pretty hot and humid out there this week, so it should be -- should make for a very, very fun experience. It's always a very enjoyable week, whatever happens.
NELSON SILVERIO: Just some thoughts on your season so far.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Season so far, got off to a decent start early in the year, took about four weeks off, and haven't found the middle of the club since pretty much. It's been a pretty rough couple of months. I haven't really played my best by any shape or form. It's been good.
I feel like it's been a couple months. It's been a period of reflection and trying to work out where I go from here a little bit and just trying to re-prioritize and get my game back in shape again. I've been working hard the last few weeks. Had a great weekend in Orlando there with my coach, Pete Cowen, and I feel like I'm turning the corner.
I look at this point in my season, this time last year I hadn't done much, either. At this point I've probably achieved more this season than I had in 2010 at this point. Last year turned out okay, so I'm trying to stay patient and very excited about things.

Q. How important would it be if you should ever get to be ranked No. 1 in the world?
GRAEME McDOWELL: That would be a pretty big deal.

Q. Is achieving that overrated or underrated do you think among the players?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think it's a very prestigious title to be the No. 1 golfer in the world. I would take it for one week. I would take it for any number of weeks. You know, it's something that hasn't been very achievable so far in my golf career with the Tiger Woods era, with his domination of the World Rankings and the amount of daylight that he put between 1 and 2.
I think things have changed. It's a very achievable target for me. I think my highest ranking so far is No. 4. I'm currently No. 5 in the world, and I realize if I can even get to 75 percent of the form I had this time last year over the summer, it's certainly an achievable goal for me.
But is it overrated or underrated? I think it's -- I think guys think it's a very prestigious thing to be the world's best player and rightfully so. I think the World Rankings are very accurate and a great system. The best player in the world right now is the best player in the world, simple as that.

Q. During the time Tiger was dominant, did a lot of guys not think about it because he was so far ahead of the pack?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think so. I think it was, A, it's tough to see him ever having a lean period perhaps like he's having right now. It was tough to ever imagine that five years ago. It was tough to ever imagine someone playing well enough to even get within touching distance of him.
But he's had that lean spell for a couple years and given us all a chance to get up there now. I don't think it's a -- yeah, it felt unachievable. It wasn't that guys weren't putting it out there, but I think it's a realistic goal. I think a lot of guys will be putting it out there as something they want to try and achieve.

Q. I was just wondering your take on Rory and Lee not being here, whether that's a knock on the tournament or more a fact of --
GRAEME McDOWELL: Are they not here? (Laughter.)

Q. A fact of the kind of policies and politics and practicality, I guess, of the current age?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's tough. I mean, you know, THE PLAYERS Championship, I've heard it called the fifth major, and you expect the world's best players to be here. But it's only the fifth major by -- it's just a title that's been given.
I completely understand that guys choose not to play it. The top players in the world play against each other many times in a season nowadays, with the majors and WGCs and the many great events around the world and the Bay Hills and the Memorials and the Wentworths and all these great events. It's disappointing.
You come to an event this big and a purse this big, and I love the golf course. I know Rory doesn't particularly like it. He's missed the cut here the last couple years. Last year was his 21st birthday and he just won at Quail Hollow, so perhaps there was a few champagne swings in there if you like. But it's not a golf course he gets on with.
Guys got to do what's best for them. It is a little bit of a selfish sport sometimes. Guys have got to pick their schedule revolved around what they want to achieve in the game. And if THE PLAYERS Championship doesn't suit guys, then I completely understand that.
Like I say, I think we play against each other enough week in and week out. I can fully understand. I'm about to play six of the next seven weeks right now, so it's a busy time in the schedule. Guys have got a lot of golf ahead of them. I can understand. Lee has just played a lot of golf in Asia and he doesn't really want to fly over here and play a lot of golf.
Like an event with this prestige to not have the world's best player here is disappointing, but he has his own agendas.

Q. Just talk about Tiger's dominance a little bit. How difficult is it to fathom that it's been a year and a half since he won a tournament of any kind to you, even though it's been a lean period?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, very difficult to fathom that. If you had told me that three years ago, I would have said you're crazy. I think any player would have said you were crazy for sure. You know, we certainly were -- are playing golf in a very privileged era. To be playing golf alongside the best player that's maybe ever played the game.
I know he's very driven to beat Jack's record, and it's only a matter of time. He will find his game, and he will find his feet, and he will win again, and he'll win many times again I would imagine. He's an extremely talented man. He was making the game look incredibly easy there for many years.
It's a fickle sport, though, and he's experiencing the tougher side of things at the minute, and we've all been through that.
You know, he certainly was making the game look very easy there. He was nearly as close to perfection as any guy has ever probably tasted. Yeah, it's tough to get your head around what he's going through, but that's the game of golf we play.

Q. You played with him a little bit obviously, a few rounds at Doral, I believe. What are you seeing in him? Are you seeing frustration because there's bursts of greatness like at Augusta on Sunday?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I played with him Thursday and Friday at Augusta, as well. Tough to say. I see determination. I see a hunger, which are two key components to any player, really. Once you have those things, mix those with hard work and great ability, and you've got a recipe for success.
You know, he's displaying a lot of patience, as well. Generally I think he's displaying a lot of patience. We all have our frustrating outbursts from time to time, but I think he's been very patient considering what I'm sure he expects of himself. So I think he's a very determined man right now, though.

Q. Can you put into perspective two guys from Northern Ireland in the top 10 in the world, especially given the size of the country? I don't know if you can give us any sense of how big that might be.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, you know, it's one of those things, when you're on the inside looking out, it's very tough to get your head around something like that. Northern Ireland is a country of about 1.5 million people. I don't even think there's a state in America that small, is there? Something like Hawai'i, or I don't even know.

Q. Rhode Island.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, yeah. Geographically, you can drive from north to south of Northern Ireland in like an hour and a half and from east to west in two hours. It's an incredibly small country. We're blessed with some great golf courses, though, and some golf clubs that really embrace junior golf. And we were definitely -- Rory McIlroy is an extremely talented young man and has been for many years. I wasn't blessed with that kind of talent, but worked my butt off to get here.
It's pretty cool. It's a lot of fun to be -- there's a nice little friendly bit of rivalry with myself and Rory, and he's certainly driven me along the last few years, and I'm sure me having the season I had last year will drive him on, as well.
It makes our small country very proud. Golf in Ireland in general, it's great. We certainly feel like the sport, it really sort of bridges the gap, the border that sort of exists in Northern Ireland and the south of Ireland, it's there. A lot of the politics and the religion and all that stuff, but the game of golf and sport in general really helps bridge that gap, and we enjoy being part of that as well.

Q. Would there be a chance that more guys could come along based on your success, or are the odds of this happening just astronomical?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think I'm fifth in the world and he's sixth in the world right now. It's pretty tough to see -- I don't know. Ireland has produced a lot of great players for many years now. Just in the last ten years, look at the Darren Clarkes and Paul McGinleys and Padraig Harringtons and lots of tournament winners from all over the globe. For such a small part of the world, it has produced a lot of great players quite regularly. But to have two -- I was going to call myself young there for a second. To have myself and Rory that high up in the world rankings, it's pretty improbable, mathematically speaking, I think.

Q. Did you see the success of Europeans coming? If so, when, and what do you put it down to?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think there's been a lot of great young talent in Europe for many years now. Yes, you could see it coming for sure. I think talent seems to cycle, and I think Europe has kind of been looking strong now for a few years. You never really know when guys are going to break through.
What is breaking through, winning majors? Winning the big events all over the world? I guess that's breaking through. It was tough to see when it was going to happen, but obviously we're being compared to the big five or six in the '80s early '90s. I don't need to say who they are, Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, all those guys, we're being compared to that crop of players, and that crop of players won many major championships. And we're starting to realize that potential, as well.
It's tough to put your finger on why. I'm a big believer in the European Tour being a very global tour. We spent a lot of time all over the world becoming very rounded players, playing in different cultures and languages and temperatures and conditions.
We learn to travel and play in all kinds of conditions, and I think it makes us very rounded individuals as golfers. The PGA TOUR, you know, we're pretty spoiled when we play on this Tour. Great conditions week in and week out, great weather, sunshine, great golf courses that tend to be manicured the same way week in and week out.
Europe can be tough, you know. We play some average golf courses in some average weather sometimes, and I think that toughens us up as players. And then we get some great opportunities to come across here and play in the biggest and best. We play against the best players in the world week in and week out now, and I think that climatization and getting used to that helps get us get ready for the big stage.

Q. Luke said the moment it came home to him was when Harrington won three major championships. Similar lightbulb moment for you?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think so. I think when you see a guy like Padraig who we've all played alongside, we realize what's possible through hard work and dedication to the game, and when you see a European player doing what he did, I think there's no doubt. You've got to look at Louis winning and Charl winning and myself winning and then Rory nearly won the Masters. I think there's definitely a belief factor for players, and when you see their peers and colleagues and friends doing something that they dream of doing and that they want to achieve. I think there's a subconscious kind of acceptance that you can do that, as well, that really helps the belief mechanism.
I think Padraig was definitely a big inspiration for European golf.

Q. Do you get much pressure to play more European Tour events, you or other top European players?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No, no. We don't get pressured. Golf, like I said earlier, it's kind of a selfish game. You've got to be a little bit selfish because schedule is -- you could play every week. You could play -- there's great golf tournaments week in and week out all over the world these days, so you've got to be very disciplined with your schedule. You've got to do what's right for you.
You know, I like to try and keep supporting the Tours that have given me the opportunity to play the game I love. The European Tour will always be my home Tour. It's the Tour I've grown up on, and I will continue to support that Tour. I think I'm playing 18 events on the European Tour this year and 17 on the PGA TOUR.
So I mean, that's not by -- I haven't set that out to have one more in Europe, it's just the way my schedule has worked out. But I think we do our best to support the European Tour as much as we can, especially in tough times right now. Sponsors all over the world needed best players to come and play, and we certainly do our best to try and support the big events.

Q. We're streaming live coverage from two holes on the back nine on PGATOUR.COM. Can you talk about the par-3, 13th. What's your strategy? Is it a birdie opportunity?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, 13th here at Sawgrass is a great hole, very pin-position dependent. When the pin is up on that right-hand side it's quite a tricky little hole because right of that green kind of runs away and leaves you a tough pitch. When the pin gets down on the left-hand side you'll see hole-in-ones, you'll see all kinds of fun stuff because you can really hit the ball up the right-hand side and use the slopes and get it coming back there pretty close.
They like to move the tee box around there and move the yardages around a little bit. Just a great par-3. Like I say, chances for birdie is when the pin is on the left, and par is a good score when the win is up the right.

Q. The par-3, 17th, is really a pretty simple hole other than all the water around it. What is your mindset as you're standing at the tee? Can you talk about that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think so. Again, depending on where the pin is, you can be a little bit aggressive to that front pin and try and use the back board behind the pin and get it coming back close.
When the pin is anywhere else, when the pin is up on that back shelf or over on the right-hand shelf, I'm pretty much picking a spot which is like 13, 14 yards onto the green. That's kind of my target for every pin position. I'm trying to pitch it right there and try and get out of there with 3 if possible.

Q. Your friendship with Rory, how badly did you feel for him on that final day at the Masters, and how soon after did you speak to him?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I felt very bad for him. It was just heart breaking watching especially 10, 11, 12, 13 was particularly heart breaking because I felt like he steadied the ship when he played 7 and I thought he made two great swings to 8.
10 was a really bad break, it really was. It's not that horrible a golf shot to pull it five yards and clip a tree on 10. To ricochet over there where it's dead and make triple, and to three-putt 11 and four-putt 12, his head was just in a tail spin at that point, and I felt sorry for him.
We've all been there. A two, three-shot lead in the last round of the Masters, we've not all experienced that, but we've all experienced a round of golf getting out of your control. I felt bad for him. I felt awful for him.
I spoke to him via text message that night. I thought he handled himself like the gentleman he is, the sportsman he is, and he's -- I was going to say 21, he's 22 now, getting old. But he's got a great attitude, great role model for young kids to see how to compose themselves and carry themselves on the golf course. Just watch him play 18 holes; he's got great energy, and he'll certainly do great things in the game.

Q. Dating back to your win at Pebble, three guys with the 54-hole lead, all younger guys, have all basically exploded in the final round and shot 80 something, looking at Watney and Dustin and Rory. What do you put that down to? Is it experience, is that the unique set of pressures, 38 different variables, or is there a commonality there?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think it's --

Q. Kind of a weird trend.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think it's just a little bit of a coincidence that happened to be three young guys. I think winning is difficult. Winning a major championship is even more difficult. When you're playing the toughest setups in world golf under the utmost pressure, and like I say, when it starts to get away from you a little bit and you start to chase on hard golf courses like that, it just keeps getting away from you and getting away from you.
Like I say, you make a few bogeys or a double and you start to chase, it just gets away from you. I played with Dustin in the last round at Pebble, and he just couldn't get anything to go right for him that day. The triple he made on 2 which is kind of one of those weird things, and doubled 3, and he couldn't do anything right the rest of the day.
I give him a lot of credit the way he handled himself that day, as well. Talking about three great players, Dustin, Nick and Rory, guys will win multiple majors between them, no doubt about that. But probably just a coincidence. It's pretty hard to win any week, but major championship setups, they can get away from you fast.
NELSON SILVERIO: Graeme McDowell, thank you.

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