March 24 2012
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ORLANDO -- Graeme McDowell has heard Bay Hill described as "major-esque" this week. Shoot, he's probably even said it himself.
So maybe that's why a man who won the 2010 U.S. Open has been able to play his way into Sunday's final pairing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. And McDowell will be playing alongside none other than Tiger Woods who happens to have 14 of those major championships on his resume.
McDowell's gutsy 71 on Saturday left him one shot off Woods' lead. The two have some history together, too, not the least of which is the 2010 Chevron World Challenge where McDowell came from behind to beat Woods – so don’t expect the Northern Irishman to intimidated on Sunday.
"I feel I've acclimatized nicely to playing with him," McDowell
said. "He's a great guy to play with. He always compliments good
shots, and like I say, he's just another guy that I've got to go
and try and beat tomorrow. He's not going to be able to tackle me
thank goodness, and all I've got to do is just play my golf ball.
"Looking back to the Chevron, I managed to make a couple nice bombs on him on the last green, and it's fun to do to Tiger what he's done to other players and what he's done a few times in the last round here at Bay Hill."
Fun, indeed. Woods is a six-time winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational but McDowell has some history here, too. He finished second to Kenny Perry in 2005 in what was McDowell's coming-out party of sorts, and on the flip side, McDowell points to last year's dismal 80 in the first round as a much-needed wake-up call.
He’s been playing extremely well tee-to-green this week, ranked first in greens in regulation and tied for seventh in fairways hit. He's also made 52 of 58 putts inside 10 feet this week, although anything longer has been problematic. On Saturday, he said, that ability to have "cleaned up really well," kept a 71 from morphing into a 75.
"All in all really, very happy with my position," McDowell said. "I'm in the last group here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of my favorite TOUR events, and it's a good place to be."
And should McDowell win his second PGA TOUR event on Sunday, MasterCard will donate an additional $200,000 to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital. Ditto for Ian Poulter, another one of MasterCard's "ambassadors" who starts the final round three shots off the pace.
McDowell doesn't expect to get rattled by the cameras or the crowds on Sunday. He knows it's clichéd, but McDowell calls Bay Hill -- not Woods -- his main competitor over the final 18 holes.
"When the setup is this difficult, you really can't be focused
on what anybody else is doing," McDowell said. "I guess, I guess,
through 15 holes is a time to come up for air and just see where
you're at, because 16 is a chance to go take a pin on and maybe
make eagle. Until that point to be honest with you, apart from the
four or five birdies chances that there is, you've just got to play
smart on this golf course.
"For sure, if he starts going low or someone starts going low, you have to react, but I'm going to stick to my game plan. It really is fairways and greens, and try and get into more of a groove with the putter than I did today. I felt like I putted very defensively today and I need to hit it a little closer and give myself a few more looks at birdie tomorrow."