McIlroy and McDowell in Washington spotlight

All eyes will be on two Northern Irishmen this week: one is the defending champion, the other should be Masters champion

It is not just nationality and friendship uniting Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell here at the 111th US Open Championship. They call America's national championship "golf's toughest major" and as far as tests go this pair of Ulstermen are being billed as facing perhaps the most arduous of their careers.

Appropriately enough for a course named in the honour of Congress, the inquiry will be both searching and very, very public. One is depicted as the defending title-holder attempting to survive the glare and handle the traditional need to justify the champion's standing; the other happens to be the boy who blew the Masters in spectacular and humiliating fashion and is being asked to prove the scars are not lasting. McDowell and McIlroy are up on capital hill ready to be shot at.

That's one way to look at. The pair have another viewpoint, which blessedly doesn't entail dusting off the cat-tails and beating themselves in recrimination. At 22, McIlroy is prepared to allow himself some slack, while McDowell believes any pressure has been lifted. All in all their attitude is good news for a European cause positively brimming with possibility, if not probability.

Still, there will be the imponderables to negotiate first and for McIlroy this entailed what advice he has for LeBron James, the basketball giant, who has reportedly not taken the defeat of Miami Heat in the recent NBA finals too graciously. America has rejoiced in McIlroy's response to his Masters demise and are holding him up as a role model. Thus, a player barely out of his competitive nappies is pressed to give guidance to one of sport's superstars. "I think he's been unfairly scrutinised," said McIlroy taking to the task manfully. "Everyone is going to have bad days, if it's on a course or on a court. With sports these days everything is overanalysed."

He could have talking about his own Masters meltdown and at least it negated a few of the "what did you learn at Augusta?" queries. As, of course, did McIlroy's trip last week to Haiti as an ambassador of a children's charity. McIlroy did not disappoint when encouraged to expand on the effects of such an eye-opening experience. "I thought I had perspective before going to Haiti, and then actually seeing it, it just gives you a completely different view on the world and the game that you play," said McIlroy. He went on to speak about the sanitation problems in the earthquake-ravaged country, talking passionately about the work being done. The plan is to return within a year.

McIlroy's work with Unicef is no doubt admirable – after all, how many sportsmen his age would donate anything than their image to the cause, let alone things as precious as their time and sensitivity? – but the inevitable link with his major capitulation is, at best, opportunistic. The truth is McIlroy does not play the shattered young man very well. He is trying to maintain a balance and on the flip side of the negative he shuts out what could be construed as the positive as well.

Yesterday, Ernie Els, the champion the last time the US Open was held here 14 years ago, tipped his International Sports Management stablemate as a "future world No 1, without a doubt". "He can really change history again," added Els. "He's got that kind of talent... I think he's going to win a lot of majors." McIlroy visibly squirmed when he was told of the comments.

"I've learned over the past few months you can't take a lot of notice of what other people say," he said. "It's very flattering and it's great that people are saying I'm going to win majors but I need to do it first. And I haven't done it yet. Hopefully I'll be sitting in front of the media on Sunday night and saying, 'yeah, maybe I could be a multiple major champion."

The chances of such a scenario should not be discounted, no matter how freshly the images of that final-round 80 at Augusta hang in the mind. McIlroy finished in the top three in the two preceding majors – the USPGA at Whistling Straits and the Open at St Andrews – and in the words of his manager Chubby Chandler, "comes alive in the majors". Where as most of his rivals yesterday were predicting level par to win this US Open, McIlroy set his sights higher and the winning score lower. "I reckon it will be a little under par," said McIlroy. "I love this set-up." His top-five finish at the Memorial two weeks ago was ideal preparation and the report from his camp is that the McIlroy mojo is back.

And so quite clearly is that of his great pal McDowell. So much for the crippling burden of expectation of becoming the first European in 40 years challenged with defending the US Open. He's been swaggering around here with all the freedom of a caddie lugging an empty holdall. "It's bizarre because if anything I feel like the glare is off me this week," said McDowell. "Having arrived here I feel a weight has been lifted. My US Open trophy is back with the USGA, the media stuff is over and I'm really happy it's all done because I want to look forward to what I want to achieve for the rest of my career. You know, it's tough to look forward when all anybody wants to discuss is the past. That's what it's been like. But now the talking has stopped, I feel less pressure."

The Pebble Beach hangover clearly affected McDowell more than he let on. But then, that is reasonable. Sportsmen do not like to discuss the drawbacks of glory; or, indeed, of ignominy. As one of the most honest and erudite characters on the circuit, McDowell is prepared to analyse the first five months of a campaign which acted as a brake on his expectations after the giddying, free-wheeling ride to the top of the game's order. McDowell began 2010 just inside the world's top 50 and finished it in the top five as the hero of the winning Ryder Cup team. It would be wrong to say 2011 has seen him jam into reverse, although the momentum has palpably left his surge.

"I guess I hit my brick wall and I've been trying to get over that wall ever since," said McDowell. "Yeah, I've hit a rough patch this year, but I really felt my game coming around the last four or five weeks. That spell from the Players to Wales, I know in my heart how well I played, even though I got nothing out of that month. I blew it at the Players. The World Match Play is the World Match Play, Wentworth, I missed the cut by one having struck it as well as I have all year and Wales I blew it in the third round. I've turned a corner and I'm really excited about this week and then the summer."

McDowell's newly-discovered confidence has not just come from the technical or the mental but also, as far as this staggering property is concerned, the external. It opened its arms to him when he signed in on Monday. Two months ago, in his duties as defending champion, he turned up for the Media Day and received the golfing equivalent of a punch in the nose. Then, Congressional was playing every inch, and beyond, of it's 7,574 yards. To McDowell it seemed on the implausible side of impossible.

"It's changed radically," he said, with something resembling a beam. "It's weird but the course doesn't feel that long any more. I hit an eight-iron into the 11th and at the Media Day I hit driver, three-wood – and I was short. Okay, it was playing downwind but it's amazing how a course can change. Now, I don't think length here will be a massive issue at all. Accuracy off the tee will be key, those greens are so firm you're going have to be able control your flight. I like the way it sets up. Someone asked me yesterday what type of player does this place favour. Well, it's certainly not a bomber."

McIlroy is a bomber, McDowell is a plotter. The latter has his major, the former is still waiting. But for as many differences there are similarities, mostly concerning what they must or must not prove. It just goes to show that at the US Open the demands never cease.

Double Macs: Tale of the two Irishmen

Graeme McDowell

Age 31

Born Portrush, Northern Ireland

Turned professional 2002

Pro wins 8 (7 European Tour, 1 PGA Tour)

Major championship appearances 22

Best in Majors Winner, 2010 US Open

Career earnings $14,690,050

Ryder Cups played in 2008, 2010 (winners)

Ryder Cup record 8 matches, 5 points

World ranking 7

Rory McIlroy

Age 22

Born Holywood, Northern Ireland

Turned professional 2007

Pro wins 2 (1 European Tour, 1 PGA Tour)

Major championship appearances 10

Best in Majors Tied 3rd, 2010 Open and PGA Championship

Career earnings $9,700,585

Ryder Cups played in 2010 (winners)

Ryder Cup record 4 matches, 2 points

World ranking 8

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice