2 February 2020, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Defending champion Graeme McDowell is hoping the fond memories he has from winning round Royal Greens Golf & Country Club at last year’s Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers will be the catalyst to reviving his form and supercharging his 2021 season.
The Northern Irishman triumphed by two shots over 2019 champion Dustin Johnson, finishing on 12-under-par, at the second hosting of the now highly-anticipated $3.5million European Tour event in 2020.
McDowell admitted at the time to being in inspired form as he began strongly in what was meant to be a Ryder Cup year.
However, the season was halted soon after as the pandemic forced golf into a four-month break, pulling the handbrake on the 2010 US Open champion’s speedy start to the season.
After missing the cut in both European Tour events so far this year, McDowell is hoping he can dig deep and use the memories of last February to help him bounce back in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and kick-start his 2021 and his push for selection in this year’s European Ryder Cup team.
He said: “It was a nice victory at the time. I felt like I was starting to get a little bit of a head of steam up and starting to create some nice momentum and move in the right direction. Obviously, that momentum did not get a chance to last very long, unfortunately.
“[It was my] first time here last year. Nice, windy track. Good golf course. Great facilities here. It fit my eye pretty well and like I say, it was really important to me at the time. The win got me back in the Top-50 in the world and got me in Augusta and opened a lot of doors for me.
“But like I said, obviously that four-month break, it broke my momentum a little bit, and I didn't respond well when we came back in the summer. But listen, it is nice to come back. Always nice to come back to a golf course where you have great memories. And like I say, I would love to get some of that momentum back again this week. That would be really, really awesome.”
He continued: “When you come to a place with good memories, it's easy to visualise yourself being successful around a place when you've played well, and I think that's one of the big things missing for me right now is that little bit of confidence and belief in my ability to make enough birdies to score well to compete.
“So I’d love to try and find something this week. It has been a disappointing Middle East so far. I would dearly love to play well this week and get my season kicked off.”
Two players to have enjoyed this year’s ‘Desert Swing’ have been Englishmen Tyrrell Hatton – who won in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago – and Paul Casey, who claimed his 21st career win in Dubai at the weekend.
Both players are competing in Saudi Arabia this week and are hoping to continue that form in an event they both admit has a lot at stake.
Hatton, who ranks in the OWGR at #7, said: “This week we've got huge World Ranking points on offer. It is an added incentive, I guess – a little bit more motivation. We have Ryder Cup points to play for. So there is plenty of things this week that you are motivated for, and it will certainly be a great event to have a really good week.
“I'll be trying my best to do that and looking forward to getting started on Thursday.”
Casey, speaking after enjoying his first taste of the Red Sea coastal course, admitted that he was blown away by the depth of the field competing in the Kingdom this week.
He said: “Cracking-looking golf course. I am here to try to play and beat an unbelievable field.
“Even today, learning about some of the guys who are here this week. I am not one to necessarily look at entry lists to see who is playing week-in, week-out, but it is stacked! We are going to have huge World Ranking points. I'm excited to get stuck in.”
The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers gets underway on Thursday. It will be broadcast in 60 countries, with live local coverage on KSA Sports.
For more information, visit www.saudiinternational.com