Harrington, meanwhile, missed the cut in Memphis by four strokes after consecutive rounds of 72. He’s played the weekend in only one of his last five events and nothing he has displayed lately is suggestive of the major championship form he displayed over the last two years.
The return to New York also will enable the duo to exorcise the demons that plagued them at Winged Foot in 2006. McDowell was co-leader with Phil Mickelson after 36 holes and played with him in the final pairing on Saturday. McDowell eventually gravitated far down the leaderboard and was an afterthought by the time Mickelson was mingling with the galleries on late Sunday afternoon.
Harrington’s Winged Foot misadventures would probably be more talked about had Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie not had meltdowns of a higher profile. Harrington also blew a golden opportunity there and has since cited that event as the one that convinced him that he could win a major, which he eventually did 13 months later.
Both golfers discussed the relative merits of their games leading up to the Open in press conferences last week.
RIDICULOUSLY GOOD FORECAST
“It’s always good to have a confidence booster ahead of next week,” McDowell said after his 63 in Memphis. “It’s my best finish of the season, which is key.”
He’s looking forward to getting back into a New York state of mind and showing the world that he has progressed from three years ago.
“I think the atmosphere is going to be ridiculously good outside,” McDowell said. “Hope the weather is kind to us. I’ll be happy to play well and make a bit of the run for the weekend, hopefully.”
McDowell is still a bit tender down around the shins. He withdrew from Shane Lowry’s Irish Open last month the day after setting a course-record 61 at Baltray.
“Sometimes you kind of get a little bit of a tightness through your shins,” McDowell explained. “I kind of had it in the past before, but nothing quite like this one. Thursday morning early, cold, wet, miserable in Ireland as usual. I kind of jog off the tee box, real elevated tee box, and put a lot of pressure on my right front foot. A couple holes later, I felt a lot of tightness.
“This is my usual. I’m pretty used to this. It progressively got worse and worse and worse, to the point where I ended up withdrawing on the Saturday of the Irish Open. [I] came off the Pro-Am on a Wednesday the following week in really bad shape, and the European Tour doctor told me not to play the next day. I had an MRI on the Thursday afternoon at Wentworth, and turned out to be a second degree tear of my lower right anterior tibialis.
“I played Wentworth with a lot of strapping on my right ankle and foot area, trying to limit the movement, painkillers, obviously, and a fair bit of discomfort there, to be honest with you. I kind of limped around the European Open a little bit and had a nice week off last week, just resting. I felt great this week.”
McDowell admitted that his habit of getting excited by his tee shots and running off elevated tee boxes will have to be curbed.
“I think that’s over for me now,” McDowell said. “I’m definitely going to have to chill out. I’m hitting 30 years old next month.”
Whereas McDowell still has a mark to make if he is to become well known internationally, Harrington can recline and rest on his laurels should he choose to do so, what with two British Opens and a PGA championship in the bag over the last two years. But that’s not what he is about.
Harrington has taken to micromanaging his game to an extent that has yet to manifest itself in any tangible improvement on his scorecard.
“Over the last couple years, I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of my swing,” Harrington said last week before the St. Jude. Like the proverbial Sisyphus, who tries to succeed in the worst way possible, Harrington may be succeeding in scraping bottom. “Since I won the two majors last year, I got a little bit deeper into it, trying to figure something out. Obviously, the results have been quite lean, certainly in the last five months. I’ve got to get back to working on my scoring.
“While I haven’t got it in my swing like I would want it, I’m comfortable with what it is and what I need to do to sort it out. Sometimes when you work on your weaknesses, your strengths do get weak a little. I’m very comfortable with what I did and where I’m going. I think I’m in a far better position that I was this time last year or even this time at the end of August last year.”
So what has Harrington done to prepare specifically for his turn at Bethpage?
“You know, I haven’t done anything,” Harrington answered. “I haven’t gone to see it. I prepared for this major like I would for all other majors, as I’m concentrating on getting my buildup right. I do expect to be ready to go when I get there.
“The golf course itself, the 10th hole, I didn’t find too much issue with the 10th hole the last time at all. Actually, the 12th, as well. I was comfortably carrying that the last time.”
NOWHERE TO HIDE
Harrington will be under quite the spotlight from the getgo, as he has been grouped with Tiger Woods and Angel Cabrera for Thursday and Friday. The threesome tees off from the first tee at 8:06 on Thursday morning, followed by a 1:36 afternoon engagement on Friday, beginning at the 10th tee.
McDowell will accompany Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell the first two days, beginning at 7:33 Thursday morning at the 10th tee, followed by a 1:03 afternoon tee time on Friday at the first hole.
Fans of Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy who plan to be on site are in luck. The two will be in consecutive groups. Clarke goes out with David Duval and David Toms in what might be termed the “Whatever happened to . . .?” grouping. They leave from the 10th tee at 1:03 on Thursday afternoon and then are up with the roosters at 7:33 on Friday morning from the first tee.
McIlroy – who will be participating in his first U.S. Open – inhabits a young gunslingers trio with Anthony Kim and Dustin Johnson, starting Thursday afternoon at 1:14 and Friday morning at 7:44, right behind Clarke and company.