News & ToursAugust 6, 2015

When you're having the kind of lousy season Graeme McDowell is having, a 66 can feel really good

AKRON, Ohio -- Uncharacteristically struggling for much of the year with his game, his confidence and his usually cheerful disposition, Graeme McDowell had to ask himself some hard questions before he arrived at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone C.C.

Fortunately, the answers were easy, even when the game isn't.

Without so much as a top-25 finish in 2015, McDowell found some relief for his ailing game Thursday, driving and scrambling his way to a four-under-par 66 Thursday on Firestone's wearisome South Course, one off the lead established by Danny Lee. It was his lowest score since an opening 66 at the RBC Heritage in April, where he finished T-26, his best showing of the season.

"I think probably the hardest question was do I still kind of want to grind and be out here? Do I still want this? I mean, yes. It was an easy answer, yeah, I do want it," McDowell, who turned 36 last week, said after making five birdies in his first 10 holes and then hanging on. "If this all went away, I'd miss it very badly. So when you answer that question positively, then you've got to start kind of answering all the other questions. How do I get myself back to where I need to be? And it starts with technique, and it starts with hard work and motivation and kind of all the things that I've done in the past. So I think the biggest question was kind of the whole do I still want to be out here?"

And why was he asking himself that?

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"Because it's hard," he said simply. "When you're not playing well, it's hard. When you're packing your bag on a Friday afternoon, it's hard. It's not cool. You get frustrated with the people closest to you and around you, and caddies and agents and coaches. It's hard."

Firestone South is hard, but McDowell seems to have found a groove on the broad-shouldered layout. Thursday's round was his third straight 66 here dating to last year, when he ended up T-8, his last top-10 in America.

McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, has played so poorly that he has dropped to 60th in the world rankings and is 159th in the FedExCup standings, meaning he'll need a strong few weeks to reach the playoffs reserved for the top 125 in the points standings.

After missing his fifth cut in 11 starts at the RBC Canadian Open, McDowell not only did some soul searching, but he also sought some technical adjustments to shore up his driving, traditionally a strength. Ten days of intense work resulted in a return of his fade off the tee and, consequently, better scoring and soaring confidence.

"I like this version of me today. It's been a rough year, no doubt about it," he said. "I've just been working hard on the game and trying to find a direction forward. I feel like I'm starting to do that now, and it's just a case of shooting some numbers and getting the confidence back a little bit and getting the juices flowing. I feel like I'll know what to do when I get back there, but it's all about the process of getting there now. So days like today will certainly help in that direction. I've got to keep doing it."

McDowell has goals, including returning to the top 50 in the world and making another European Ryder Cup team. (He said, in fact, that a Ryder Cup berth supersedes playing in next year's Olympic golf tournament for Northern Ireland.) And there's winning, of course. But his motivation has evolved.

Becoming a father for the first time last Aug. 25 when his wife, Kristin, gave birth to their daughter, Vale Esme, has certainly changed his outlook.

"I want to be back to the business end of things where it gives you the happy feelings, you know," he said. "When I have my little kid run out onto the 72nd green, that's what I want. That's what the new me wants."

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