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McDowell's Scheduling Choice

McDowell right to pace himself after a good showing at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions says Dermot Gilleece

Posted Jan 13, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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As Graeme McDowell strutted his stuff down the 18th fairway on the Plantation Course at Kapalua last Sunday, a veteran American observer was moved to remark:  “He reminds me of Arnold Palmer at the same age.  Same self-confident swagger.”

With a course record-equalling 62, McDowell created a tremendous buzz in the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, missing a play-off place by only a stroke.  As it happened, sudden death between the eventual winner, Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus seemed like an anti-climax in the aftermath of the Irishman’s exploits.

So, where does this leave the 31-year-old from Portrush?  It makes him one of the most exciting and watchable players on tour, whose next assignment is the Abu Dhabi Championship later this month.  After that, he will be taking a belated Christmas break, probably of four weeks, at his base in Orlando.  In fact he will remain in the US until after the Players Championship in May, when he returns to Europe for the BMW Championship at Wentworth.

Most players who compete in Kapalua remain in Hawaii for this week’s Sony Tournament in Honolulu.  But McDowell resisted the temptation, keenly aware of the necessity to pace himself.  He has no intention of becoming one of golf’s iron men.  While sponsors pull at him from all directions, he remains determined to play no more than 27 or 28 tournaments this year.  Indeed most of them are already finalised, apart from end-of-year events in Asia and the US.

 “Towards the end of last year, I kept my caddie (Ken Comboy) away from his family for seven weeks straight,” he said. “We did something like 32,000 air miles together and I have no intention of doing that again.  But I’m glad I went to Kapalua.  Seeing Hawaii was something I always wanted to do and there were huge bonuses last week like going out in a boat in the Pacific, whale-watching.”

He went on: “The key going forward is to maintain my world ranking.  Though I’m still number five, I have closed the gap on Phil Mickelson and who knows what might happen over the next few weeks.  Though it will be difficult to repeat what I did last year, anything in the vicinity of 2010 would be quite nice.”

Champions like to defend titles, if only for the fact of going back to a place where they’ve tasted success.  McDowell is no different in this regard, which means that ideally, a return to the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club would be high on his list.  But it’s not quite that simple.  “With the World Cup back on the schedule, I would really like to play it,” he said.  “Rory (McIlroy) and I went very close a couple of years ago and it would be great to give it another go, together.  But the way the schedule has worked out, to play in it and defend the Chevron would be a geographical nightmare.”

He was referring to the fact that the World Cup is scheduled for Mission Hills, China, on November 24th to 27th, followed by the Chevron in California the following week, then on to the Dubai World Championship.

 “There is also the fact that the Chevron clashes with the Hong Kong Open, where I have a good association with the sponsors, UBS,” he said.  “It’s unfortunate to have so many great events in the space of three weeks. There are obviously tough decisions to be made. You can’t maintain 100 per cent top form if you’re playing 35 weeks of the year.  Guys have tried it.  Like Retief Goosen, Ernie (Els).  I certainly don’t think it suits everyone.  You’ve got to achieve the right balance. We’ll see.”

McDowell is clearly aware of his status as a world-class player who can have a highly productive career, provided he takes the right options.  Having learned from the lessons of the past, one suspects his scheduling mistakes will be few and far between.

- Dermot Gilleece

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