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July 16, 2013

Graeme McDowell


MIKE WOODCOCK: We'll get started. Just like to thank Graeme McDowell for coming in and joining us this afternoon. You've had quite a run recently, I think three wins in the last seven tournaments. Must give you a lot of confidence coming into this week.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah. Always great to be back at the Open Championship, especially when the sun is shining. I'll try not to talk about the weather too much today. We'll enjoy it while we have it. Great golf course here, completes my set of Open golf courses this week. Muirfield was the only one in the rotation I had never played before, and got a chance to come here early last week and play it in beautiful conditions. And it's, as everyone has seen, it's in magnificent condition. It's a fantastic golf course. And really, really excited to be here and ready to go, like you say. Some good confidence coming off the back of a win two weeks ago in France. A golf course which is not dissimilar in style to a golf course like this one, where fairways and greens are a real premium, and very much so this week, where fairways are a must. You really can't play this golf course from the rough. You must keep it in the short grass to have a chance and out of the bunkers. It's a really, really great of golf. I'm excited about the way things are setting up.

Q. There was obviously some feedback last week in Scotland towards comments that you made regarding the Scottish Open and you were moved to speak to the organizers. I wanted to ask how you felt when you heard some of that stuff coming back at you. Has that affected the reaction you've had this week? You're quite popular in Scotland and I was wondering if there's been any negativity toward you because of that.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I read a few of the quotes from some of the guys last week and, you know, first and foremost, of course, my comments were certainly construed a lot more negatively than I was trying to -- what I was trying to say, really. I was talking more about schedule and strengthening the important parts of our schedule in and around Wentworth and around The Open Championship. Unfortunately managed to single out the Scottish Open as a weakened field in the last three or four years, and kind of inadvertently criticized Castle Stuart as a venue. It wasn't really my intention. It was kind of just one of those things after I said it, I realized it wasn't a very good thing to be saying. And that's prompted me to contact Martin Gilbert from Aberdeen Asset Management and apologize firstly for singling out the Scottish Open, an event which I love. I won it in 2008. It's close to my heart. And certainly I was disappointed in myself as to the way things read and the negative connotation to what I said. Certainly it was great to see the guys enjoying the golf course as much as everybody did last week, and get a great weeks' weather. And obviously a fantastic champion. Like I say, it wasn't really where I was trying to go. I was really trying to talk about getting the Scottish Open back to a world-class event and a world-class field. And like I say, it really didn't kind of go the way I was trying to let it go. Like I said, I apologized to Martin Gilbert and obviously the people at Castle Stuart. There's been no negativity -- obviously I received a little negativity on my social network accounts from upset Scotchmen and people globally. That's one of those things, like I say, I was disappointed myself, the way it came out. And that kind of thing can happen from time to time. I do talk a lot, like I'm doing right now (laughter). And sometimes you can talk yourself into a little tizzy, that when you read it on a piece of paper you go, I didn't really want to say that. But I love playing golf in Scotland, like I say. I won the Scottish Open in 2008. I'm very proud of that. One of my most proud victories. And I was simply trying to say that the Scottish Open deserves to have a world-class field and I'm looking forward to that happening very soon. I'm hoping that I can get that into my schedule next year. The people this week have given me a good reception so far, I'm hoping there wouldn't be too much negativity and we can put all that stuff behind us.

Q. You mentioned the victory in France. Does golf lend itself to sort of momentum from one week to the next and can it carry over? And the second question is, how do you think your friend, Rory, is handling pressures and expectations that sort of have been placed upon him in recent months?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure, I think the game of golf, certain players, get on runs, can use confidence and momentum. They say, winning is a habit. It's a contagious habit. It's certainly a habit we like to get into. You can say my season this year has not really kind of been that way. I haven't fed off my victories maybe the way I needed to the last few months. Obviously I've won three times in the last eight events, but missed five cuts in the last eight events. I think my season has not felt as inconsistent as perhaps it's read. Those missed cuts, if you look at them, I missed by one at Augusta, missed by a couple at Players, missed by one at the Irish, missed by a couple at Wentworth, missed by a couple hundred at the U.S. Open. It hasn't really been as bad as it's read. I felt fairly decent with my game most of the year. I went through a period of four of five weeks around the U.S. Open where I was bit under-golfed actually. The Volvo World Match Play, take that out of the equation, because it's not a 72-hole stroke event. I missed the cut at the Players, I missed the cut at Wentworth, two weeks off. I'm going into the U.S. Open probably a little underprepared and a little under-golfed, and I kind of put that performance down to that more than anything. The second part of your question, I think Rory has handled things incredibly well. He's obviously struggled with his form a little bit this season for his extremely high standards, the high standards he sets himself and the high standards we expect from him, because he is a phenomenal player, a phenomenal talent. And the way he's handled things the last few years has been incredible. He's, I'm sure, put a lot of pressure on himself this year to prove to everyone that he can make a switch the way he has and continue to perform. The game of golf is very difficult. It's very fickle. I want to say this time 12 months ago Rory McIlroy's form wasn't very good either, and proceeded to have an incredible last six months of the season. So I don't think anyone in this room would be shocked if he won this week, and would continue to have a phenomenal rest of the year. We always say form is temporary and class is permanent. And he's a class player, and I expect to see him back very soon.

Q. You've been paired with Tiger Woods in the opening round, given the spotlight that's on him, how much of a hindrance or help is that?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I've played enough golf with Tiger Woods to know what to expect on Thursday and Friday. He's always a great guy to play with, very complimentary. He's the best player in the world and maybe the best player ever. So he's the kind of guy you want to play with, especially on a week like this week, which I think will appeal to his tactical side of his game. I think back to Hoylake in 2006 maybe as a firm, fast Open like this one. He certainly dismantled that course that week. And we'll be watching with interest his game plan Thursday and Friday. I've got my own game plan which I'll be sticking to. He's a kind of guy if you can finish one ahead of this week, you might not be that far away. So I'm looking forward to that. Louis Oosthuizen, one of my very good friends, I tweeted early in the week, that Tiger and Louis' golf swings are probably two of my favorite swings in the world. So that's never bad to play beside two guys with the rhythm and golf swings like they have. I'll be very excited about that pairing and the obvious natural intensity that that brings and I'll be using that to my advantage.

Q. You said you never completed The Open set, where does this one rank on the Open set? And what do you think are the strong points about it?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It's right up there for me. I'd probably say Birkdale, Turnberry, Lytham and this one, in no particular order, that's my four favorite Open golf courses, Open venues. St. Andrews takes a lot of beating from me as a venue. But golf courses I really enjoy this one. Strengths, it doesn't have a lot of weaknesses, let's be honest. It doesn't feel long. But let's be honest, when a links golf course is playing this firm and fast, it doesn't have to be long. I think it's well bunkered. A lot of the bunkers around the greens are very playable and very fair. The bunkers in the fairways are hack-out material, like they should be. I think they've done a great job with the rough this week. It's nicely graded. It's thick in the areas it should be thick, and gives you half a chance to get club on ball in areas sort of where you deserve to have a chance. And I love the flight entrances into a lot of greens, like the 10th hole behind us, here. To me I see that hole as not a lot of club off the tee, as it must find fairway, but then you've got quite a big target to hit into. So you can kind of go into these greens with a bit more club in your hand. Be conservative off the tee and a bit more aggressive into the greens. The par-3s are probably a key to this golf course. All four of them are very difficult. All upslope short of the green, and you've got to really sort of beat the first seven or eight yards of the green and heavily bunkered. Par-3s are key. The two par-5s are certainly chances, for sure, in the prevailing wind. It's got a really nice balance. I think it's very fair. I think bad golf gets punished and good golf gets rewarded. I think it's a very fair golf course. I like it a lot.

Q. If we could go back top the scheduling thing for a moment. You're an RBC guy now, which presumably you're in the Canadian Open next week?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Correct, yeah.

Q. What made you kind of add that to your schedule? If you do play the Scottish Open next year, it would almost be three national Opens in three weeks, is that too much, just right?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: This is a busy part of the season. I've scheduled myself accordingly, you know. I said I was a little under-golfed going into the U.S. Open. Obviously I wanted to be prepared for the U.S. Open, but my lack of golf kind of around that period was sort of in anticipation of a very busy summer. I think as European golfers we certainly, from the U.S. Open through the PGA, we play a lot of golf. I like to come home and play the Irish Open and the French Open, the Scottish Open, and the British, of course, and then straight back to up the States for Firestone and the PGA, historically. And of course this year, as an RBC ambassador, I'll be playing the Canadian Open, also. So there's a lot of golf. It's a busy schedule. And with the FedEx playoffs right afterwards. It kind of is what it is. I'm looking forward to getting across to the Canadian next week. Schedules are tough. We set those out a long time in advance. Like I say, I typically play a lot of golf at this time of the year. And thankfully I've managed to pace myself well coming into this summer. So I'm feeling fresh and looking forward to this stint, and hoping to make an impact this weekend first and foremost, and see where we're going from here, really. It is tough. It's tough to play on both sides of the Atlantic, effectively. Unfortunately there are times when you have to put a few air miles in and travel a little bit. But I think on the European Tour we're pretty used to that, traveling and time zones and adapting to different conditions. So I'm looking forward to the challenge this week, first and foremost, and beyond.

Q. Is that why you missed all those cuts, to stay fresh for this summer?

Q. We've had 18 winners in the last 20 Majors. And during that five-year period there's been none for Tiger. Is there a connection there?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Certainly a connection, if it's 18 winners in 20. The two repeats would be Rory and who? Harrington, how could I forget him? Yeah, there's certainly a connection between so many different winners, and Tiger not winning one, because we all know when he gets in the mood, he likes to win a few. I think sort of in a period when Tiger kind of went missing for a couple of years there, it gave a lot of players a chance to step up to the plate and show how healthy the game of golf is, and get their confidence up and win the big ones and really get a bit of belief in themselves. But I think Tiger has been responsible for raising the bar, raising the level of golf, the talent level, the strength level, the athletic nature of the game. I think he certainly has set the standard for how good guys can be. I think everyone has kind of stepped up to the mark. I think young players are coming out better and tougher and ready to win, much, much more than they were 10, 15 years ago. Does technology kind of level the playing field? I don't know, I just think guys are getting better. And are ready to step up on the big stage and win Major championships. Can someone do what Tiger was doing early 2000s, winning Majors with a regularity he was doing? It was pretty superhuman golf he was playing then. And I'm not sure if that's possible anymore, like I say, where everyone feels like they've stepped up a level now.

Q. I'm sure you've seen the list of winners here over the years, going way back, it's almost all Hall of Famers. Any theories as to why this place produces such great winners? Is it a coincidence or is there something to the fact that the guys at those times are the ones emerging as the winners?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think because it's a fair test. I've pictured some of the Open rotation golf courses, they can be quite severe from a terrain point of view. And you've really -- it's kind of a bunch here or a bunch there, it's depending on which side of the slope you hit can be the difference between birdie and bogey. I think this golf course is extremely fair. It's got a lot of, like I talked about, a lot of flat entrances into greens, where good shots are getting rewarded more often than not here. This golf course is all right there in front of you, there's no hidden tricks to it. Like I say, good quality golf gets rewarded. When a links golf course starts to play firm and fast, and some of the fairways can be quite undulating and lots of humps and hollows. That's just the nature of links golf. If you catch the wrong side of a slope or downslope or upslope, it can be construed as quite unfair. I don't think there is anything like that on this course. This course is just all there in front of you. You hit the shots, they'll be where you expect them to be. It gives you half a chance around the greens. It's very penal off the tee, about half a chance around the greens, gives you a chance to pitch and hit bunker shots, and doesn't kind of unduly punish you too much. Of course you're going to find yourself up against the lip of a few traps here and there. Nine out of ten times this golf course will reward good golf, and like I say, punish you off the tee, but give yourself opportunities up and around the greens. I think it's a fair golf course which rewards great players and great golf, probably why we have so many great champions at this venue.

Q. Having reached the level where you're considered among the favorites when a Major rolls around, which is harder for you to manage, your own expectations or the outside expectations?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think I've became quite good at managing external expectations. I've sort of been through that a lot in my career and learned how to deal with that and block it out and just kind of -- things like this, coming to the Media Centre on Tuesday of a Major championship used to be a very exciting thing for me, not that I'm not happy to see everybody here, but it's something I welcome. When I walk into up the Media Centre, it's normally because you've done something good. Hopefully you're not here because you've done something bad; that would not be good. But generally it's a good thing to be in here. And I use that really as something to feed on, I suppose. It used to be I kind of got excited and intimidated, and like, wow, this is a Major, I'm in the Media Centre. It's amazing. It's somewhere where I want to be. I hope I'll be here Friday, Saturday, Sunday of this week, that's where I want to be. Learning to deal with the small things with going with being kind of one of the favorites and things like that, my own expectations are the more dangerous ones, for sure. U.S. Open was probably -- I've probably never gone into the Major feeling as tipped up and as heavily billed as I was going into Merion. I didn't produce the goods. Certainly has nothing to do with expectation levels from externals. It was probably, like I talked about earlier, it was a lack of golf and under-golfed and it certainly wasn't my own expectations; I just didn't play very well. I've been around long enough to kind of know how to approach a week like this one. It's a golf course which hopefully should set up well for me, premium and accuracy off the tee. And good iron play coming into the greens, and a lot of pace putting. I think this week is going to be very difficult to get close to these pin positions with it being so firm. You're going to have to pace putt well and chip and putt well. So I'll be ready to go Thursday, and have my expectations in check, hopefully.

Q. Given your performance for the majority of the Open last year, and the fact that two of your victories this year in Bulgaria and France have come on links-style courses, does that put good memories in the bank to draw upon, or is this a completely different challenge?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: No, I think growing up on a links golf course, if I was to say which one of the four Major championships, if I was to win one, you know, again, what would my best chance come, it would certainly come at a U.S. Open or British Open. I think the links style golf is in my blood and I always feel like I revert back well to it. I'm naturally and instinctually can play well in the wind. The short game I have a fairly good instinct for the short game, and I'm say very good pace putter, the things I've learned growing up, I suppose. Like you say, the golf course in Bulgaria, to an extent and certainly the golf course at the French Open, in many ways was very, very good preparation for a week like this. I'm sure Castle Stuart last week was good prep for a lot of reasons, firm and fast, and pace putting, et cetera. I think French Open from a point of view of hitting fairways, long fescue when you get off the beaten track, firm and fiery conditions, playing quite conservatively off the tee and aggressive into the greens, I've always felt that that was a good course for me, because it was quite linksy. So that was good prep. And hopefully I'll be trying to use my links skills to good effect this week. This is a bit like Lytham last year. I liked it when I saw it, as far as a golf course that sets up for me in The Open rotation. A golf course like St. Andrews probably really wouldn't be my cup of tee, because guys that can fly it 300, 320 yards, can bomb trouble out of play at St. Andrews, but they can't blow it out of play here because it's well bunkered bunkers, plenty of rough. There's going to be a lot of similar-type plays off tees that you're not going to be able to over-par this golf course, I think. It sets up well.

Q. Given the three wins that you've had this year have come in similar sets, how do you go about creating a master plan this week? Do you take the place apart on paper or in your head or working the greens backwards? What way do you go about planning?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Really just by hitting shots. And even from a week ago, when my caddie and I were here, Monday afternoon, evening, and Tuesday morning last week, the golf course has sped up again. Shots that were maybe 3-irons last week, are sort of becoming 4- and 5-irons. It's really getting firmer and faster. You really kind of have to be ready for any contingency, I suppose. If the wind switches, a hole can play entirely different. A bunker that you're trying to take out of play with a 3- or 4-iron, might be a hole you can all of a sudden take on. I picture a hole on the back nine -- I think it's 12. Kind of downhill, par-4. It's playing back into the wind today. It's kinds of a 3-iron and an 8-iron. If it's weren't downwind, guys can blow it on that green. So you have to be looking at stuff like that. But like I say this golf course forces you into certain areas in the fairway. Holes like 18, there's very little you can do there, except hit it into the area about the size of this room that they kind of have bunker right, two bunkers kind of left, heavy rough left and short, and they're trying to get you to position it in this area to go into the green with a 4, 5, 6-iron. So I think that's the characteristic of the golf course in that it forces you into certain areas. There's a few holes that give you opportunities to kind of blow up past trouble and go in with less club. But that's kind of what I'm doing. I suppose I'm picturing different wind directions and how my game plan might change. And I feel like between myself and my caddie we're fairly good at that stuff.

Q. Gary Player told me that it was a pity that so many players will not be using driver this week from the tee. What is your view on that? And do you have a score in mind that might take it to win it this week?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Looking at winning score, if the wind forecast is what they expect, which is fairly light, 8 to 10 miles an hour, switching to the east on the weekend, tough -- I think it might be 10, 12-under. It really just depends. It can get fairly evil with pin positions, The R&A, I have to say. They can get a little bit evil. These greens, there are some little corners on them that they can find. Obviously weather is always going to play a massive factor. Let's pray for a great, sunny, breezy weekend. That would be fantastic. As far as Mr. Player on the drivers, I'm not really sure what he means. He's an athletic, fit guy. Loves the dynamic kind of nature of the game of golf. And I'm sure he just wants to see guys out there ripping it and using their athletic ability. I like a bit of variety on a golf course. If I ever design a course, it will be a lot of different clubs off tees, and irons and woods, and something that kind of gets the brain working a little bit. This is certainly a game of chess this week, where you have to position your pieces and keep them in play. A little bit of reverse in that you've got to play a bit conservative off the tee and maybe a bit more aggressive into the greens. So certainly there won't be a lot of drivers. I don't see my hitting much more than five or six drivers out here. It's a great tactician golf course.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Graeme, good luck this week.

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