Ladies and gentlemen, we now know your winner of the 2013 Open Championship. Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient, can already fill in the blank in his speech at the awards ceremony tomorrow night. Spoiler alert. The champion golfer of the year is… Graeme McDowell.
It seems a shame to declare the final 36 holes of what has already been a fascinating tournament to be academic but McDowell is operating under some hitherto unknown law of binary golf. He either misses the cut or wins, putting up 0s or 1s. Has done since April. “Get your money on me now,” he laughed. “I only win when I make cuts, apparently.”
In his last eight events, dating back to the Masters, McDowell has won three times, including on his last outing at the French Open. But there have also been five missed cuts, including at Augusta and the US Open, the Players and the PGA at Wentworth.
It was no surprise the 33-year-old Northern Irishman was so relieved after returning a 71 to be four over par. “I certainly didn’t want to be sitting at home watching this on TV,” he said. “I’m ecstatic to be here. It’s going to be a beautiful weekend.”
That is one word to describe the challenge of a baked-out Muirfield. McDowell was one of those not to criticise the course on Thursday, when he had a 76, and now the 2010 US Open champion is looking forward to the examination to come. “The golf course is going to get nothing but tougher and tougher. It is tough to see the leaders getting beyond four or five under. Literally anything under par could win. We saw how difficult it began yesterday. After today, I’d imagine they can let the handbrake off and let the course accelerate away from us.”
McDowell said he had worked on his ball flight after his first round and that was the key to his improvement yesterday. But he and his playing partner, Tiger Woods, struggled with the slightly slower greens in the morning after a little water was put on the course overnight. “I’m not going to say the greens were soft or receptive, but they were at least two feet slower and I left a lot of putts short.”
The task facing McDowell to continue his binary form was brought home to him by watching his playing partner – the third member of the group, Louis Oosthuizen, retired hurt on Thursday. Woods was six shots better as the three-time champion tied for the clubhouse lead from the morning half of the draw.
“He was very impressive the last two days,” McDowell said. “He will not be far away. He plays the course very conservatively but it is incredible how well he controls his ball flight. He is using his iron play to devastating effect and, combined with some great putting, he’s going to be dangerous. I said to him on 18, ‘That was a clinic the last two days’.”
Ironically, although McDowell trails Woods by 13 in their major count, in recent times it is a different story. “It’s nice to be the only man in that two-ball with a major in the last five years but you can fall into the trap of standing back and admiring what is happening beside you.
“I’m looking forward to getting into my own zone tomorrow. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s picking up the Claret Jug on Sunday night but I’m not writing off the rest of the field, and certainly not myself.”
Luke Donald, the former world No 1 who enjoyed a top 10 finish alongside McDowell at Lytham last time, missed the cut for the second time in three years. He managed a 72 yesterday after starting with two birdies in the first three holes but finished at 10 over thanks to an opening 80.
“The damage was done on Thursday,” he said. “I just didn’t have my game this week. I didn’t have the right control of the ball which you need when the course gets this hard.”