Golf

Graeme McDowell ready to do the hard yards in bid to reach the top

Graeme McDowell is back in action on the European Tour at the Qatar Masters
Phil Casey

FORMER US Open champion Graeme McDowell concedes he faces a long road back to the top of the game.

McDowell was ranked as high as fourth in the world in 2011 and 53rd shortly after his last tournament victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November 2015.

But the Ryder Cup star slipped back down the rankings last year after missing 13 cuts and is ranked 91st ahead of his first event of 2017 in this week's Qatar Masters.

McDowell admits he has been distracted by starting a family in recent years, but the 37-year-old from Portrush insists he is motivated to recapture the form which produced 10 European Tour titles and three Ryder Cup victories.

"It has not been the kind of few years that I expect from myself," McDowell told a pre-tournament press conference.

"There's no doubt that there have been some factors outside of golf which have definitely been distracting and I wouldn't change it for the world. Having a family is something I've always wanted.

"Coming to the start of the next few years, I've tried to view it as a long road back toward the top of the game. That's where I want to be again, give myself chances to win major championships again. I know I've got a lot of things to work on.

"I've just been rededicating myself the last six or eight months and mentally I think it's really, really important that I stay super-patient with it. It may not happen this week and it may not happen next week. But if I keep doing the things that I know that are going to make me the best I can be, eventually it will come."

Missing out on a fifth straight Ryder Cup appearance at Hazeltine has given McDowell extra motivation, especially with the 2018 contest taking place at Le Golf National in Paris, where he has won the French Open twice.

"I think my focus had come back a long time before that Ryder Cup," the Northern Irishman added. "But I think not being on that team was a reinforcement to me that I'm not doing what I want to do in the game.

"And I'm still very, very motivated and that I still want it badly enough to go out there and do whatever it takes. I guess that's the key.

"I'm ready to really kind of get the head down for the next five years of my career and see what I can do."

McDowell faces stiff competition in Doha from the likes of Abu Dhabi Championship winner Tommy Fleetwood, runner-up Pablo Larrazabal and his fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Cabrera Bello, who is seeking his first win since 2012, was second to Branden Grace last year and has also finished third twice before at the usually windswept Doha Golf Club.

"I've had some modest success on this course before," Cabrera Bello said. "I've played good and I feel I'm currently hitting the ball good and performing good. This would be a great chance to get the win.

"I know I've finished runner-up and been up there contending many, many times. Not necessarily all those runner-up finishes give me a bitter taste when I remember them. Some of them were great finishes to manage to sneak a runner-up, and yes, others were where I was leading and I faded away.

"I just know that if I keep putting myself in that position, it will happen."

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