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Match Play Win, His Second in a Month, Makes G-Mac a U.S. Open Favorite

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COMMENTARY | He couldn't let the kid steal his thunder for too long.

Graeme McDowell, who ended a 40-year European drought at the U.S. Open with his breakthrough win at Pebble Beach in 2010, has spent the last two plus years operating in the shadows of heralded fellow Ulsterman and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy.

While McIlroy struggles to regain his dominant 2012 form, G-Mac has found his groove again. McDowell rallied to win the European Tour's Volvo World Match Play Championship Sunday in Bulgaria 2 & 1 over Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, his second victory in a month.

With the win, he should rise into the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking, his highest placement since March 2011.

Since his U.S. Open victory, G-Mac has become a fixture in golf's biggest events. He teed off in the final group Sunday at last year's U.S. Open at Olympic Club and British Open at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's but fell just short in both instances. He dispatched Hunter Mahan to clinch the 2010 Ryder Cup for Europe and has also taken down Tiger Woods in his own tournament twice in the last three years at the Chevron World Challenge.

But it hasn't been since 2010 that G-Mac has strung together two wins in a year. And he's got plenty of golf ahead of him this season.

"I feel this is building blocks for something good this year and beyond," McDowell said after winning the RBC Heritage in April.

G-Mac flexed the strengths of his game in the match play win in Bulgaria. He overtook Jaidee in the championship by keeping his ball in play and waiting for his opponent to make mistakes.

"This course really suited my game, accuracy off the tee," McDowell said at the trophy presentation after his eighth European Tour win. "I felt strong all week."

G-Mac could be forgiven for taking his eye off his little, white Srixon. The amiable 33-year-old got engaged at the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship last November and spent an extended offseason putting the finishing touches on his new bar and grill in Orlando, Nona Blue.

Any rust from that break quickly wore off. He strung together three straight top 10 finishes in late February/early March on the PGA Tour before edging Webb Simpson in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage.

If his form can hold, McDowell will be one of the favorites when the U.S. Open returns to Merion Golf Club next month. In his last four outings at our national championship, he has a win, a tie for second and two other showings in the top 18. He wasn't a factor in McIlroy's record-breaking win on a softened Congressional Country Club in 2011 but when conditions are difficult, G-Mac should be right there.

He's fifth in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour, which will be a critical on a short Merion course where the fairways will certainly be pinched to offset a setup that will be less than 7,000 yards. But more than a solid swing, G-Mac possesses the optimistic mindset necessary to bounce back from the inevitable bad breaks and occasional bogeys that an Open will throw at you.

McDowell is the type of a guy you'd want to share a pint with. Win or lose, he's always a straight shooter with the media. And he's a loyal friend, acting as the unofficial spokesman and defender of McIlroy through the youngster's adjustment to the fame and commitments of a being a superstar.

Could G-Mac achieve similar status? Another major victory would go a long way.

"I didn't get a lot out of my year last year in many ways, but I knew in the bottom of my heart that my game was getting better and better all the time," McDowell said after his win at Harbour Town.

G-Mac is about as content and confident as a golfer can be right now. Don't be surprised if you see the Irishman smiling again a few Sundays from now at a golf course outside Philadelphia.

Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.

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