Short of getting on his knees and begging for absolution for sins against Castle Stuart, Graeme McDowell could have done no more to show his regret for criticising the former home of the Scottish Open.
In a saga that is surely now put to bed once and for all, the Northern Irishman clarified that he didn’t mean to insult the Inverness links when he said that, without the benefit of wind, it was too easy and that the tournament had lost some of its prestige.
“My comments were construed a lot more negatively than I meant,” said McDowell. “I was talking about my schedule and unfortunately I managed to single out the Scottish Open as a weakened field in the last three or four years and I kind of inadvertently criticised Castle Stuart as a venue. That prompted me to call Martin Gilbert from Aberdeen Asset Management and apologise for singling out the Scottish Open – an event I love.
“[The criticism] wasn’t really where I was trying to go. I received a little negativity on my social network accounts from upset Scotsmen and people globally. That’s one of those things. I was disappointed with myself with the way it came out. That kind of thing can happen from time to time. I do talk a lot. And sometimes you can talk yourself into a little tizzy and when you read it in on a piece of paper you go ‘I didn’t really want to say that’.”
McDowell spoke about his victory in the Scottish Open in 2008 at Loch Lomond and what it meant to him – one of his proudest victories, he said. Royal Aberdeen next year is an event he hopes to add to his schedule. On and on went the mea culpa until such time as you felt like standing up and saying ‘Enough, G-Mac! Enough!’
He’s had a strange old year, McDowell. Stranger than strange, in fact. He has won three times – twice in Europe and once in America – but has missed eight cuts. He followed up three missed cuts in a row on the European Tour by winning in France a fortnight ago. He has failed the weekend in the Masters, the US Open and the Players and yet he has all these victories to his name as well as three other top-10s.
What to make of his current form? “They say winning is a habit, it’s contagious. It’s certainly a habit we like to get into. You can say that my season has not really been that way. I haven’t fed off my victories the way I needed to. If you look at the missed cuts, I missed by one at Augusta, missed by a couple at the Players, missed by one at the Irish [Open], missed by a couple at Wentworth, missed by a couple hundred at the US Open. It hasn’t really been as bad as it reads.” The game of golf, he says, is very fickle. He was bang there after three rounds of the Open last year, out in the final group with Adam Scott and seemingly with the mettle to get the job done, given he’d already done it in a major. McDowell imploded and shot 75. At Merion he was hotly fancied, given the brutal nature of the course, the kind of track he is usually at home on. He said he was under-golfed going to Merion and shot 76, 77 for 13-over. Brutal, right enough.
Things can turn in an instant, though. This is his first week at Muirfield and he gushes about the place, puts it on a par with Birkdale, Turnberry and Lytham for Open courses that suit his eye. “The course is fair. Nine out of ten times this golf course will reward good golf. This kind of links golf is in my blood.”
He talks about his mate, Rory McIlroy. Everybody is talking about Rory this week. Everybody is asked for their theory on what is going wrong at the moment. “He’s struggled with his form a little given the high standards he has set for himself and the high standard we expect from him. He’s a phenomenal player and the way he’s handled things the last few years has been incredible. He’s put a lot of pressure on himself to prove to everyone that he can make a switch [in equipment] and continue to perform.
“Twelve months ago, Rory’s form wasn’t very good either and he proceeded to have an incredible last six months of the season. So I don’t think anyone in this room would be shocked if he won this week. Form is temporary and class is permanent. And he’s a class player.”