G-Mac moves one step closer to realising Open dream at Portrush

Graeme McDowell made a great start in his bid to secure qualification for the Open Championship at Bay Hill this week.

This is the first year that the Arnold Palmer Invitational serves as a leg in the Open Qualifying Series, with three players who finish in the top 10 set to secure their tickets to the year’s third major tournament at Royal Portrush, provided they haven’t qualified by other means.

It’s a big incentive for any hopefuls in the field but particularly for McDowell, who was born in Portrush and estimates that he has played the Dunluce Links course more than 500 times.

McDowell is not currently exempt for The Open, but took a massive step towards rectifying that situation by opening with a four-under-par 68 at Bay Hill which left him tied for third place behind leader Rafa Cabrera Bello and second-placed Keegan Bradley.

“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 and the U.S. Open. It’s going to be a special summer if I can get myself there,” McDowell said.

“And the game’s there right now, I’ve 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.”

At 39, McDowell currently finds himself ranked 259th in the world, and is only playing this week thanks to a sponsor exemption.

There are some signs of an upturn in form, however, with a T-11 finish at the RSM Classic in November followed by a T-18 in his return to Pebble Beach last month, the site of his 2010 US Open victory.

“I haven’t done a good job the last couple years of just trying to get certain things out of my head,” McDowell said.

“I haven’t done a good job when I put pressure on myself. So I’m just 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.”