Tiger Woods is Graeme McDowell’s pick to win this week’s British Open.
The world No. 1, who, as everyone knows, has not won a major since 2008, so impressed his playing partner over the past two days that McDowell tipped Woods to be the last man standing at Muirfield on Sunday evening.
“I said to him on the 18th green, ‘That was a clinic the last two days -- that was very impressive’,” McDowell told TheOpen.com after Woods grinded out an even-par 71 to remain at 2-under for the tournament. “He certainly looks like he’s very close to being back. There will be no surprise to me if he’s picking up the Claret Jug on Sunday night. I’m not writing myself off. But it would be very hard for me to beat him at this point if he keeps playing like he’s playing.”
McDowell, who took to Twitter Thursday night to solicit applicants to join him and Woods for their round on Friday after Louis Oosthuizen withdrew with neck and hip injuries during the first round, got an up-close and personal look at the way Tiger patiently negotiated the softer course conditions.
“It made the intensity level crank up,” McDowell said about the head-to-head pairing that left him at 4-over after his own even-par round.
“I’m fairly comfortable playing with Tiger,” said the 2010 U.S. Open champion. “The only trap I fall into is, you find yourself standing back and getting a little too full of admiration. It takes you out of your own zone. It’s very difficult to focus on your own game when you’re watching the best player maybe ever.”
McDowell could not stop gushing about Woods’ play, which included a birdie on the 18th hole that put him in excellent position to contend over the weekend.
“He was very, very impressive the last two days. The flight control he has in his irons -- he just hits the shot that you’re supposed to hit at all times. I’m not sure there’s a better iron player in the world,” McDowell said. “It’s incredible how well he controls his ball flight.”
Rory McIlroy’s Northern Irish countryman reported that Woods stuck to his no-driver strategy throughout the first two rounds.
“I had to double check with Joe [LaCava], his caddie, that the driver head cover actually had a driver underneath it, because it hasn’t seen the light of day, not even close,” McDowell noted. “ He’s using his iron play to devastating effect.”
Woods’ short game also held G-Mac in thrall.
“He’s putting exceptionally well. I lost count of how many eight-, 10- and 15-footers he’s made for par over the last two days, how many comebacks for par, leaving them short, blowing them by,” McDowell observed. “He’s putting them exceptionally well. You’ve got to play extremely well here to score, and I certainly watched how it’s done the last couple of days with TW.”
Despite his over-the-top praise for his playing companion, McDowell was not above giving Woods a bit of a tweak about his five-year major-less drought.
“It was nice,” said McDowell, who finished his day a shot above the projected cut line, “to be the only man in that two-ball that’s won a major in the last five years.”