Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Sunday, December 2, 2012
McIlroy helps fuel McDowell's fire

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Rory McIlroy reached out to his buddy Graeme McDowell via Twitter on Sunday, congratulating his fellow Ulsterman for his victory at Tiger Woods' annual tournament, suggesting it should be renamed the GMac Challenge.

Given McDowell's success at Sherwood Country Club, it's an understandable sentiment.

McDowell won what is now officially known as the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual for the second time. In three appearances, he has two victories and a second and has earned a cool $3 million.

That's pretty good stuff for the 2010 U.S. Open champion who is now set to take 10 weeks off after a grueling run toward the end of the year. He won't tee it up again until the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles near the end of February.

So McDowell wasn't really looking on this victory as any kind of a springboard toward 2013. Nor did he think he made up for some of his shortcomings in 2012, specifically his final-group opportunities at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, where he came up empty.

No, McDowell's first victory of the year means a really nice holiday season and some good vibes to take into a long break as well as jump into the top 15 in the world.

And he admitted it gets him thinking a bit about McIlroy, the clear No. 1 player in the world who hails from a town in tiny Northern Ireland less than an hour from where McDowell grew up.

"When you see a guy like Rory McIlroy doing what he's doing right now, yeah, it's tough not to have that little bit of envy," McDowell said after his 3-shot victory over Keegan Bradley. "I always envy his game and I know I'll never have a game like that.

"I guess I've pretty much come to terms with the fact I'll not be able to hit it 350 [yards] through the air any time soon. Like I said, he's overly impressive. I've just got to beat the golf course with other things, wedge play and putting and short game. There's no doubt, I've been envious of what he's achieved the last four or five months. I'm sure every player on the planet is. But he's motivated me."

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell's first win in two years came after recording four rounds in the 60s at the World Challenge.

McIlroy won five times around the world in 2012 and captured his second major championship while winning the money titles on both the PGA and European tours.

But before McIlroy emerged with such a flourish, it was McDowell, 33, who was garnering the headlines.

After finishing second at this tournament in 2009, McDowell went on to have a career year, winning four times around the world in 2010, including the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the World Challenge. He also holed the winning putt for Europe at the Ryder Cup.

His victory here in 2010 was the topper, as he made up a 4-stroke deficit against Woods, twice holing long putts on the 18th green to win in a playoff.

And then McDowell didn't win again until Sunday.

"I characterize these last two years, the first eight months were just an absolute writeoff," he said. "Just wasn't myself. Frustration. Dealing with my new status, I guess, within the game.

"And then really for the last 15, 16 months, I've been on that path or process. … Just really trying to get myself back together and get myself back to winning ways. This year has been frustrating born out of some great golf."

How much a win propels him in 2013 remains to be seen, but McDowell was more than happy to celebrate it. His victories have come with a celebration in which he picks up the bar tab for those at his home clubs, Lake Nona in Orlando where he resides, and at Rathmore, his home golf course near Portrush, Northern Ireland.

"It's not too early for those boys," McDowell said, noting it was nearing midnight on the other side of the Atlantic.

As part of his long break, McDowell is opening a tavern called Nona Blue at Lake Nona, where he hopes to have a few more celebrations in 2013.

And if that requires a tussle or two with McIlroy, he'd welcome the opportunity.

"I've sort of rubbed shoulders with players better than me, players I feel like I can learn things from and people that can motivate me," he said. "I'm not sure what small part I've had in his career in motivating him or mentoring him. It's very small. But I'm sure it's there.

"He certainly motivates me for sure. I'd love to see him down the stretch somewhere, some Sunday afternoon. Hopefully it's in California."