Irishtrio

McDowell, Harrington enthuse about McIlroy's skill

Both Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington acquitted themselves well in the U.S. Open, although few people might have noticed.

McDowell, defending the title he won at Pebble Beach last year, tied for 14th place at 2-under-par 282 (70-74-69-69). Last year, he won the title by shooting ever par. This year, 2-under left him a mile behind, figuratively, and 14 strokes behind, literally.

McDowell started well enough, with only a bogey at the first hole on Thursday to mar the round. Friday proved a challenge, however, with a double bogey at the fourth hole, followed by a string of three bogeys beginning at the ninth. At tourney's end, he was six strokes shy of Jason Day for second place.

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"It was a lot of fun," McDowell said. "I got here as the U.S. Open champion, I loved every second of it, and am very happy with that defense of the title. The golf course softened up and perhaps, maybe, didn't suit my game the way a firmer, faster golf course would have, but that's Mother Nature and you can't do anything about that.

"Tee to green, I played beautiful this week. The putter was cold. I just didn't get it rolling at all. The greens kind of had me foxed, had me confused, but [I'm] very happy with my weekend." Harrington played consistent, although not stellar, golf. His 5-over-par 289 (71-73-72-73) was good for a share of 45th place.

Shane Lowry shot 148 (72-76) to miss the cut by two strokes.

Rory McIlroy's U.S. Open victory met with an unequivocal and enthusiastic reception from the two other Irish Majors winners on the premises, who were quick to extol the virtues of the victor and the system from which he emerged.

Asked if he was gratified by McIlroy's victory, McDowell exhibited an admirable command of the English language amidst the scattershot raining of superlatives.

"It doesn't gratify me," McDowell said. "I'd have liked to have had a chance going into today. It impresses me, shall we say."

But then McDowell piled on. "Nothing this kid does ever surprises me," McDowell said. "He's the best player I've ever seen. I didn't have a chance to play with Tiger [Woods] when he was in his prime, and this guy is the best I've ever seen, simple as that. He's great for golf. He's a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we're ready for golf's next superstar and maybe Rory is it."

McDowell, who often practices with McIlroy, analyzed the youngster's strengths.

"He's the best driver of the golf ball I've ever seen," McDowell said. "His iron play is aggressive. He's got a great ball flight and he's got great touch around the greens. His putting has been the only question mark and his little bit of, perhaps, how do you call it, lack of being able to close to this point.

"Those are the only two parts of his game that have been in question. He's putting all the question marks to rest this week and, like I say, he's a great player. This kid has been knocking on the door for a long time and he really is the real deal, so it's exciting."

All the questions directed at Harrington in his post-play press briefing on Sunday had to do with McIlroy's performance, not his own. Naturally, Harrington had a lot to say on the matter.

"I think Rory has set himself apart now in potential," Harrington said. "Other guys have been in contention and failed to win majors. Rory has been lapping the field. He's 22 years of age and this is indeed his destiny. So I think he's well prepared for it.

"You know what, I think he's got very good balance in his life, so I don't think this is going to be too earth-shattering for him. I think this is what makes a difference - there might be people capable of winning a major, but there's not too many people capable of dominating and running away from the field in a major."

WHAT'S IN THE WATER?

Asked what was in the water that flows through Ireland, so as to produce high-caliber golfers at such a high per capita rate, Harrington was quick with an answer.

"Ireland is a great country for competitive golf," Harrington said. "A lot of other European countries are sending their amateurs to our big tournaments now because they realize we consistently produce competitors."

McDowell echoed the sentiment.

"Ireland is a very small place," McDowell said. "People love their golf if Ireland, they're very proud of their golfers in Ireland, and we continue to produce great players. What Harrington did a few years back, people couldn't believe it. And for me to win the U.S. Open last year, I mean, it was just met with an unbelievable reception, and now we've got the U.S. Open trophy coming back to Northern Ireland again.

"I mean the probability of Northern Ireland producing back-to-back U.S. Open champions is a lottery number."

McDowell ever so gently touched upon the ability of the sport to transcend the divisions that have otherwise plagued his and McIlroy's corner of the island.

"Golf is a sport in Ireland which crosses the border," McDowell said. "All the trouble we've had there the last three, four decades, golf and sport really bridges that gap. People north and south of the border in Ireland are really proud of what golfers are doing, and we're so proud of our golfers back home. This is going to be big. People are really going to stand up and notice."