Graeme McDowell's US Open victory gives Gordon a grin and tonic

EDINBURGH golfer Craig Gordon has a massive incentive to come through next week's final qualifying for The Open – a possible practice round at St Andrews with the new US Open champion.

The former Scottish Mid Amateur champion not only roomed with man-of-the-moment Graeme McDowell for two-and-a-half years at college but also caddied for him when the Northern Ireland star won his first professional event.

Gordon befriended McDowell when they were both at the University of Alabama and he was thrilled when his friend became the first European to win the US Open for 40 years at Pebble Beach on Sunday.

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That success will see McDowell take centre stage at St Andrews in the next major in three weeks but Gordon also has a chance of joining him and the rest of the world's top players on the Old Course.

The 33-year-old, who played his golf as an amateur at Ratho Park but is now attached to Edinburgh Golf Centre, was among the 17 players who passed the regional qualifying test at Musselburgh on Monday. He now heads to Kingsbarns on Tuesday for the local final qualifying and admits McDowell's achievement will be make him try even harder in the 36-hole test.

"My goal is to qualify for St Andrews and play a practice round with Graeme, that's my big incentive," he said.

Gordon, who stayed up into the early hours of Monday morning to watch McDowell win in California, says his former college team-mate was always destined to go right to the top.

"Graeme always had that X-factor," he remarked. "The biggest thing that shone through with him was what he had between the ears. He was bright enough to go to Oxford or Cambridge and has used that intelligence on the golf course.

"Mental strength separates the best from the rest – and Graeme has that in spades. Indeed, I think he sensed that Dustin Johnson (the American who led by three shots going into the last round] would evaporate – and he wouldn't!"

Gordon, who, after turning pro, had a spell at The Berkshire before returning to Scotland, where he is starting to make his presence felt on the Tartan Tour, pinpoints 2000 as the year he knew McDowell was a special player. "That was when he won the Irish Amateur at Portrush and the South of Ireland at Lahinch," recalled the Scot.

"He also won the World University Championship at Castlerock, finished runner-up to Carl Petterson in the European Amateur and took five-and-a-half points out of six in the Home Internationals at Carnoustie. "That showed he was something special, as did his first win as a professional in the 2002 Scandinavian Masters, only his fourth event as a pro, and I caddied for him at the time.

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"While Graeme moves in different circles these days, he still sends the odd text or email and I have definitely taken inspiration from watching him on what has been a constant upward curve.

"I was a bit bleary-eyed at Musselburgh on Monday after staying up to watch the US Open and now it would be fantastic if we could have that practice round at St Andrews."