Interview: Late Lytham lapse still haunts McDowell
By Tony Jimenez
TROON, Scotland (Reuters) - European Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell goes into this week's 145th British Open looking to make amends for the day he let victory "slip through his fingers" in the 2012 edition at Royal Lytham.
The Northern Irishman was in the thick of things towards the top of the leaderboard with nine holes to go four years ago but had to make do with a share of fifth place behind eventual winner Ernie Els after dropping four shots on the back nine.
McDowell featured in the same final-round group as Adam Scott who dominated the tournament from day one before suffering an agonising late slump that saw the Australian toss away a four-stroke lead over the closing four holes.
"Lytham was disappointing," McDowell told Reuters in an interview at Troon. "Standing there on the 10th tee I was ahead of Ernie.
"I was playing with Adam, his name seemed to be on the trophy. I felt my opportunity to win the Claret Jug had gone and I didn't focus very well on the back nine -- that's probably one of my regrets I look back on."
McDowell could have drawn on the positive experience of winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, his only major championship triumph, but admits he suffered a costly lapse in concentration when the heat was on at Lytham.
"I feel as though the Claret Jug slipped through my fingers," said the 36-year-old.
"I was trying to press the issue, go for broke, when all was not broken at that point. It was a little bit of inexperience that kicked in.
"I've learned from that day that anything can happen especially in majors," McDowell told Reuters at a MasterCard event where he was trying out the latest developments in wearable contactless payment technology.
"It was a little bit of over-reaction I suppose but in the majors especially you have to stay in the moment, focus on the process and the results will take care of themselves."
One stroke summed up McDowell's mood on the back nine in 2012.
Standing in the middle of the fairway on the 11th hole with a three-wood in his hands, he lost his ball after sending a wild hook sailing into the trees on the left.
McDowell made full use of his Lytham experience when he won the French Open in 2014 for the second year running, staging a brilliant late rally as he came storming back after being six strokes adrift of the leader with nine holes remaining.
"That day at Lytham I thought I was out of the tournament and I stopped focusing but at the French Open I hung in there, made some late birdies and all of a sudden I was standing there as the winner," he said.
"I learned that you've always got to stay in the moment, focus on every shot," added the 10-times European Tour winner.
"The only thing you can control is the next shot but that's very hard to do because we've all been in that scenario where you're making your winner's speech with six holes to go.
"You can't get ahead of yourself and blow up. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are, it doesn't matter what happened on the previous hole, you always have to go through the same process hole in, hole out."
McDowell, who has played in the last four Ryder Cups and claimed the winning point for Europe at the Celtic Manor course in Wales in 2010, has slipped to 74th in the world rankings after being as high as fourth spot five years ago.
He is struggling to get into captain Darren Clarke's team for the biennial match against the United States that will be staged in Minnesota in September but he is not ready to hit the panic button just yet.
"There's two months to go until the Ryder Cup and there's nothing I can do to affect that," said McDowell.
"All I can do is try and focus on the Open this week. It's not about getting out to a superfast start with a 65 or a 66, it's about building into the tournament.
"You have to learn to take the rough with the smooth and try and build a position where hopefully you can contend come the final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday," said McDowell.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)