Graeme McDowell celebrates return to scene of his U.S. Open victory, shoots 68 in season debut

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Richard Heathcote

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – You would think after winning the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links Graeme McDowell never would miss a chance to come back and bask in the glow of that career-defining triumph. And yet his appearance in this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is only his second since then.

“It’s one of the greatest walks in golf,” said McDowell, apparently intent on not spoiling it by visiting here too frequently. “It was cool to be out there. You know, I’ve probably won about a third of my earnings on the West Coast. I don’t know why I don’t come out here more.”

Especially when he can shoot a 4-under-par 68 in his first round of the year. In fact, Thursday’s round was the first 18 holes he’s completed since Dec. 29. And it was quite satisfying considering he is far from healthy, as the heavy bandage on his left wrist can attest.

McDowell, 39, has been nursing a bone bruise that cropped up over the holiday simply from hitting golf balls. He didn’t think much of the pain that developed in his left wrist, he said, because, “I thought it was just one of my early-season tweaks.” Turns out, he damaged the lunate bone, a large carpal bone in the middle of the wrist. “It’s a really random, obscure kind of weird injury.”

McDowell most years begins his season in the Middle East, but this year he planned to play the Desert Classic and the Farmers Insurance Open as he attempts to regain his PGA Tour card after finishing the 2018 campaign 144th on the FedEx Cup points list. He had to withdraw from both. Practice has been limited to no more than 30 minutes at a time.

“When I have managed to tape up my wrist and hit some balls I’ve hit it really well,” he said. “This body doesn’t look like much, but it hasn’t been injured very much, thank God. It’s been a frustrating time.”

So his performance Thursday, marred only by a three-putt bogey on 18, was not a huge surprise.

“I am certainly not going to let that couple of foot putt at the last I missed spoil my day because these greens are as such as you are going to miss the odd one or two as they are very difficult to putt,” he said. “I hit a lot of quality shots today and I was very excited the way I played, and it was a very positive start to the year really after a frustrating January.”

McDowell, who finished T7 in 2014 here playing alongside his father in his only other appearance after his U.S. Open triumph, was frank in assessing his position in the game. “I have 18 months to get my sh** together,” he said. He is playing mostly on sponsor invites, but he is not in the Players or the Masters, and worse, he is not yet qualified for the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland.

Winner of eight international titles to go with three on the PGA Tour, McDowell’s last victory anywhere came at the 2016 OHL Classic at Mayakoba.

“People have been great to me,” he said. “I’ve gotten most things that I’ve asked for so far. But that ticket won’t last forever. I only have a certain amount of time where my status in the game will carry me.”

That status, of course, emanates from his surprise victory here when he completed 72 holes in even par and defeated Gregory Havret of France by a stroke and two-time champion Ernie Els by two. Thursday provided him an opportunity to remember just how impeccably he performed that week and what he really accomplished, being the fifth man to win America’s national golf title on the Monterey Peninsula.

And that will carry him all the days of his life, regardless of his status on any tour.

“Of course, it’s nice to come back here. It’s nice to be part of the legend of a place like Pebble Beach,” he said musingly. “To be a part of the lore of this place, I do pinch myself walking around out there thinking I won a US Open out here. How cool is that? You don’t appreciate it at the time, but you get a little bit older and you realize that it’s special. And that you’re part of a pretty special fraternity.”

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