Graeme McDowell became the first European US champion in 40 years at Pebble Beach last year, and next week he faces the incredibly difficult task of defending his crown.
The 111th US Open championship is set to take place at the Congressional Country Club in Maryland, which has played host to the 1964 and 1997 championships. Congressional Country Club’s Blue course is widely regarded as one of the best golf courses in the world, but McDowell knows it is going to be a tough ride.
The build up to the tournament has not been a positive one for McDowell after a disappointing display at the Saab Wales Open as he went from seven under par to one over in a poor third round.
The wet and windy conditions at Celtic Manor did not help the Northern Irishman who eventually saved face, finishing par 71 before heading home to Portrush to focus on the big one up ahead.
He may not have defended his title in Wales but maybe thoughts of retaining the US Open were playing on his mind as he looks to recharge his batteries for June 16.
The current world number eight understands the complexity of the course and how his recent poor form might be highlighted on these quick and undulating greens. He has not been hitting the ball well of late and the Wales Open illustrated this problem which has undoubtedly not just affected his game technically, but also mentally.
Better weather conditions than that of Celtic Manor last week are expected in Bethesda as the defending champion looks to make his way through the challenging course.
The top level of Golf is arguably as wide open as ever, with the title of world number one seemingly changing hands every other week or so. The Englishman, Luke Donald, currently holds the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and along with many others will undoubtedly be a threat to McDowell’s chances.
Players such as Martin Kaymer and even number two Lee Westwood will also be rivaling the defending champions for the crown as Westwood looks to claim his first major. Even names such as Phil Mickelson and possibly the 1997 champion at the Congressional, Ernie Els might strike fear into the mind of the man from Portrush.
No doubt he faces stiff competition from his best pal and compatriot, Rory McIlroy who will be looking to show he can compete mentally on the big stage after recent falters.
One man McDowell will not have to worry about however is the legendary Tiger Woods, who has pulled out of the tournament with knee and Achilles problems. The former world No. 1’s ambition to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record is looking increasingly unlikely after yet another setback for the 2008 champion.
Even if Graeme McDowell does speak of his disappointment that a great such as Woods will not be involved, he will know that it has knocked a huge competitor out of the billing for his title.
2010 was a fantastic year for McDowell with the US Open, Ryder Cup and his rise to number four in the world.
His form this year has not been good enough but if he can focus mentally and get his swing back, he may stand a chance of retaining his US Open crown next week and then maybe even make a push for that coveted world number one spot.
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