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McDowell: I'd love to win another major and this time I'd be able to enjoy it

Five years later, the Irish golfer recalls his landmark US Open triumph.

Graeme McDowell celebrates his 2010 US Open victory at Pebble Beach with his father Kenny.
Graeme McDowell celebrates his 2010 US Open victory at Pebble Beach with his father Kenny.
Image: Action Images/REUTERS/Rob/INPHO

STANDING ON THE third green at Pebble Peach, it dawned on Graeme McDowell that a monumental achievement was almost within touching distance.

As he waited for the arrival of the struggling Dustin Johnson, his playing partner in the final pairing on that Sunday afternoon at the 2010 US Open, McDowell realised that he was at the top of the leaderboard during the final round of a major championship.

At the start of the day, it seemed that McDowell’s best hope of becoming the first European winner of the tournament in 40 years would be to consistently save par and wait for errors from Johnson, who had finished the third round with a three-shot lead.

It was a tough Sunday afternoon on the California coast; not a day for chasing birdies — McDowell shot one for his entire round. The plan was to be patient, hole putts and wait for an opportunity.

However, such was the commanding nature of Johnson’s lead, McDowell felt that consolidating second place would be an achievement to be proud of, with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson all breathing down his neck.

“Tiger, Phil and Ernie were all on the leaderboard and obviously Dustin Johnson was leading after playing fantastically well on Saturday,” McDowell recalls. “But I realised that day that it was hard out there and that everyone else was finding it hard too.

“You’ve got to remember that no matter what, all you can do is control your own ball. There’s no point in watching the leaderboard or listening for cheers from elsewhere. But you can sort of detect from the crowd what is going on.

“It’s very easy to know what a Tiger cheer is and what a normal one is. With the lack of Tiger cheers over the first nine holes that day, I was aware that he wasn’t really making a charge. But the golf course was just so difficult. Like I say, you just have to commit to controlling your own golf ball and not worry about what everyone else is doing.”

US Open Golf McDowell walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the 2010 US Open at Pebble Peach. Source: AP/Press Association Images

On the Friday evening, McDowell had ended the second round with a two-shot lead from Els, Mickelson, Johnson and Ryo Ishikawa. But the Portrush man followed that up on Saturday with a 71 to relinquish top spot. Both Johnson and Woods carded 66.

With one more round to play, Johnson had a commanding three-stroke lead and Woods was just two behind. Chasing down an in-form young player high on confidence, while being closely pursued by a man who had won the US Open with 15 shots to spare on the same course ten years earlier? A daunting challenge awaited McDowell on the final day.

“I played with Dustin Johnson on Saturday, he shot a 66, and it was probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever seen,” McDowell says. “It was a windy day and I was leading going in. It was a very nerve-wracking day for me and I shot a good level-par in the end. But he shot 66 and I just thought, wow!

“I didn’t really know much about him at the time, but he blew me away. Having played with him on Saturday I thought I’d be playing for second going into Sunday. Because of that, I felt like the pressure was off me a little bit.”

McDowell and Johnson went out together again for the final day’s play and the pendulum soon swung back in the direction of the Irishman. The American dropped five shots with triple and double bogeys on the second and third holes respectively.

McDowell: “Two-and-a-half holes in, after Dustin had shot seven or eight or whatever it was on the second and lost his ball on the third, I’m standing on the third green waiting for him and I realise that I’m leading in the final round of the US Open.”

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A birdie on the fifth was McDowell’s only gain, but this wasn’t an afternoon for taking risks. Back-to-back bogeys on the ninth and tenth were followed by two more down the stretch, but McDowell remained in the ascendancy. It was a three-over final round, but that was enough to seal his first major championship win.

PA-9057998 Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion. Source: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

“It’s always hard to know what our actual memories are, even looking back at videos, but I guess I remember some of the emotions that I went through; from feeling totally in control for the first eight holes, to the first chink in the armour from a confidence point of view when I hit it in the left semi and the front bunker on the ninth and made bogey.

“Then I made bogey from the middle of the fairway on the tenth. I walked off the tenth green feeling like I was letting this opportunity slip away from me and I started to become very nervous. I let myself have a little glance at the leaderboard for the first time that day and I looked and saw that everyone was still struggling.

“It was tough out there but I was still leading. That gave me the resolve to dig in. There were a couple of nervy moments on the back-nine but I did manage to hang in there, although it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. But it was cool.”

Winning his first major at Pebble Peach in June 2010 took McDowell by surprise. He wasn’t prepared for it at the time and, with the benefit of five years of hindsight, he looks back now and wonders if it ever really sunk in.

His recent form doesn’t suggest that another major championship is imminent, but the appetite is certainly there. His next opportunity to deliver it will begin at Chambers Bay on Thursday for the 115th US Open.

PA-22927368 Chambers Bay in Washington is the venue for next week's US Open. Source: PA Images

“It’s been a crazy five years,” McDowell says. “I feel like I’ve played pretty well in the interim period. I feel like I’ve refocused myself and I’d love to win another major championship before my career is done. I’m definitely hungry to taste that.

“Looking at my four Ryder Cup experiences, going from being a rookie in ’08 to really not being able to enjoy it because you’re starting to understand what they’re all about; to this last Ryder Cup where I felt like I was able to take it all in and enjoy it. I think that’s kind of how I’d feel if I won another major. I’d be able to enjoy it.

“In 2010, it’s such a whirlwind and an unexpected thing that you just don’t know what to do and you have no idea how to handle yourself. You nearly can’t enjoy it so I’d love to win another one so that I can really savour it and have my eyes open this time.”

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