This week’s ‘home’ Arnold Palmer Invitational could not come quick enough for Graeme McDowell as he seeks to lock-in a Masters invitation.
McDowell has dropped to 50th on the World Rankings and down three places since capturing last month’s Saudi International.
GMac needs to be inside the top-50 as of March 30th to be assured of joining fellow Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry at the year’s first Major.
This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational is a 30-minute drive from McDowell’s Lake Nona abode with the Ulsterman getting to sleep in his own bed for a second week running after electing to skip last week’s Honda Classic.
Also, the week at home has allowed McDowell to fully recover from a stomach virus he picked-up last fortnight while competing in Mexico City, something that reflected in scores over the four days of the WGC – Mexico Championship in failing to break 72.
McDowell has been a strong supporter of the Arnold Palmer Invitational having played the event every year since 2009, with a best result of second in 2012.
Three years ago, McDowell was honoured in being named an ambassador of the event.
No such honours though for McDowell’s 2008 rival USA Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger who is being slammed by a number of European Tour stars after his controversial comments belittling the merits of Europe’s main tour.
Azinger, commentating for NBC TV during last week’s Honda Classic, displayed some severe ignorance in declaring that Tommy Fleetwood’s career will not be complete until he’s won on the PGA Tour.
Fleetwood has won eight times in his career, including five times in Europe and was crowned European No. 1 in 2017 and a year later played a pivotal role in Europe’s victory over the Americans.
He was still clear of the field early during Sunday’s final round and seeking a maiden PGA Tour victory when Azinger angered those looking on from across The Pond.
“You can win all you want on that European Tour, international game and all that. But you have to win on the PGA Tour,” said Azinger.
Then in speaking of Fleetwood, Azinger followed up referencing Lee Westwood, who, like Fleetwood, was in contention going into the Honda final round saying: “Westwood took offence to that actually yesterday when I asked him about that.
“Lee said I’ve got two wins on the PGA Tour but he said, ‘Oh, well, I’ve won forty-four times all over the world.
“It’s not the PGA Tour, though, and they know that and I think Tommy knows that. It puts a little pressure on Tommy.
“But this is where they want to be, isn’t it? They want to come here. They want to prove that they can win at this level.”
Westwood responded on social media saying simply: “Oh dear, oh dear!”
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay is a three-time winner on the European Tour and had earlier in his career become the first British golfer to win the US Amateur in 2006.
“Pretty disrespectful this to other tours. Sometimes our strength of field is stronger and playing internationally will undoubtedly make you a better player and MOST, a better person,” said Ramsey on Twitter.
Ian Poulter, a three-time PGA Tour winner, said: “I like Paul Azinger a lot. And get on with him great. But Paul, please do not condescend or disrespect the European Tour and our players like that. We have slapped your arse in Ryder Cup so long I know you captained a win but seriously that was embarrassing today.”
Azinger took over the NBC anchor role at the start of last year from the highly-respected Johnny Miller and first put his foot in his mouth this time last year.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari was only the reigning Open Champion having denied Tiger Woods at Carnoustie and had just captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational that he defends this week when Azinger described the victory as ‘the biggest moment of his career’.
While Fleetwood let slip victory at PGA National, the 29-year old Englishman has moved back into the world’s top-10 for just a second time in his career.
His third-place result has moved Fleetwood to World No. 10 and in the process, knocked Tiger Woods back to No. 11, the first time Woods has been outside the top-10 since winning last year’s Masters.