Rory McIllroy and Graeme McDowell head into the next week’s U.S. Open clearly buoyed by fine performances this past fortnight.
A week after being runner-up at Wentworth, McIlroy burst in contention on day three of the Memorial in shooting a 64 and a round that equalled a similar score he shot on the final day in capturing the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The 2011 U.S Open champ left Muirfield village last night (SUN) and wasting little time headed north to New York’s Long Island after a closing Muirfield Village 69 for an 11-under par total.
McIlroy had been level par after two days to make the level par cut right on the mark and played the next 36 holes in 11-under.
“There was plenty of good stuff over the last two days to give me encouragement heading now to the U.S. Open,” he said.
“I do need to work on driving the ball a bit better and then everything else feels really good as I feel like I have made some really big strides with my irons and wedge play.
“I also hit a lot of good putts this week that didn’t go in so my game feels pretty good and as long as I can keep the ball in play at Shinnecock, I feel like I will have a good chance.
“We have rented a house up near Shinnecock for two weeks and it’s best we are up there to practice rather than down at Florida, so I play Shinnecock tomorrow and then play a few other courses in the area over the next few days.”
Six time zones to the east and McDowell made amends for an indifferent day three with a closing 64 in the Italian Open.
It handed ‘G Mac’ a share of fifth place on 17-under par and five adrift of Dane Thorbjorn Olesen (64) who, with a 22-under par total, denied overwhelming crowd favourite, Francesco Molinari who holed a monster curling birdie putt at the last in a 65 for a 21-under total.
The win is Olesen’s fifth Tour win and a first in nearly two years.
McDowell’s effort of eight birdies and just a lone bogey was his lowest European Tour since November, 2013 in producing a similar score on day three of the WGC – HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
PGA Tour-wise McDowell has not shot a similar round since a 63 on route to victory in the 2015 Myakoba Classic in Mexico and his last victory anywhere.
“It was a good last round as I found myself in that last group scenario on Saturday and psychologically being in the last group you feel yourself protecting something and all three of us got off to a slow start,” said McDowell.
“I just didn’t really recover on the back nine with my putter letting me down and I look back on that 71 with regret because this last round was a bit more like it and I played a lot better tee-to-green all week, and the putter remained hot today.
“So, I have to be happy with a 64 and I have plenty of positives to take away as it’s been a really positive two weeks for me and something to pour into the confidence for the summer.”
Indeed, McDowell’s share of 12th at Wentworth and now a tie for fifth in Italy has boosted hopes of the Ulsterman forcing his way into the European Ryder Cup team after being named last week as a Versailles vice-captain.
“I would still like to make Thomas’ side as a player and these last two 72 holes are as good as two tournaments I’ve put together this year and ironically after being ruled-out of the Ryder Cup team, well not really ruled-out, but you know what I’m saying,” he said.
“I took a lot of inspiration from being part of the Ryder Cup thing last week and I also kind felt it was a weight lifted off my shoulders, as well having come back to Europe and really having nothing to lose by just playing free and enjoying my golf.
“It has just seemed to have kind of paid off these past two weeks. I still have a lot of work to do but this has been a really nice two weeks.”
Both McIlroy and McDowell will have this week off to prepare for the June 14th starting U.S. Open at the famed Shinnecock Hills on New York’s Long Island.
In contrast, both Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne are staring at 36-hole qualifiers for the U.S. Open today (Mon) with Lowry teeing-up in suburban Columbus, Ohio and Dunne jetting back from Italy last night to London for a 36-hole at Walton Heath in Surrey.
Lowry birdied two of his closing five holes in a 70 for a three-under tally.
Dunne sadly sandwiched two double-bogeys, at his third and final holes, in between eight birdies including four in succession from the 13th, in a closing 68 for an 11-under par total and an share of 30th.
And Padraig Harrington is crossing ‘The Pond’ yet again this year to tee-up in this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis after an Italian Open closing 68 for a 10-under total.