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Inside the Ropes: McDowell returns to Pebble with dad in tow

The SportsXchange

The last time Graeme McDowell was at Pebble Beach, he was hoisting the U.S. Open trophy following his career-defining victory in 2010.

The 34-year-old Irishman returns to the Monterey Peninsula for the first time this week to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, making his 2014 debut on the PGA Tour.

Kenny McDowell, who hugged his son on that memorable Father's Day four years ago and gushed, "You're some kid," will be there, too.

"I'm very excited to get back to Pebble," said Graeme McDowell, who missed the cut in two of his three appearances in what purists still call The Crosby. He also finished eighth in 2005. "First time back since 2010.

"I'm very, very fortunate to have been offered the chance by the sponsors of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am to play with my dad. A real bucket-lister. To go back there with him, we're playing Cypress Point, we're kind of doing the whole deal. Sunday afternoon, with a chance to win coming down the last with him, that would be right up there with 2010, for sure."

McDowell hasn't played since he finished sixth in his title defense at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge further down the California coast in Thousand Oaks early last month.

After nearly two months off for the holidays in Northern Ireland and Florida, and settling in with his bride, the former Kristin Stape, after being married in September, he is ready to get back to the grind.

"I've been working hard in the offseason and can't wait to get 2014 going," said McDowell, who owns 12 pro wins. "No better place for me to start than such a great course where I have even better memories. ...

"To play with my dad will be an amazing experience. He hasn't been back since, and I figured it would be a way to ease back into the season a little bit, a bit of fun."

McDowell is coming off a season in which he won three tournaments around the globe -- the RBC Heritage in the United States in April, the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria in May and the Alstom Open de France in July.

However, it was feast or famine for a while, as he also missed the cut seven times and in some big events -- the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Players Championship, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in England, the Irish Open and the Barclays at the start of the PGA Tour playoffs.

"They say winning is a habit," McDowell said late last year. "It's a contagious habit. It's certainly a habit we like to get into. You can say my season this year has not really kind of been that way. I haven't fed off my victories maybe the way I needed to.

"Obviously, I won three times in eight events, but also missed five cuts in eight events. I think my season has not felt as inconsistent as perhaps it's read. Those missed cuts, if you look at them, I missed by one at Augusta, missed by a couple at Players, missed by one at the Irish, missed by a couple at Wentworth, missed by a couple hundred at the U.S. Open. It hasn't really been as bad as it's read. I felt fairly decent with my game most of the year. ...

"It's been a funny season. Inconsistent, yes. But when it's been good, it's been really good."

One thing was determined in 2013, when McDowell played under the flag of Ireland in the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne. The fighting might be over, but the passion still runs deep in Northern Ireland, so the choice was not easy.

There will not be a Northern Ireland team for golf's return to the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, with players from there being able to choose between Ireland and Great Britain.

Rory McIlroy, who teamed with McDowell to play for Ireland in the 2009 and 2011 World Cups but declined to play in December, said he might not play in Rio because the backlash from either side might be too much to take.

McIlroy, who is Catholic but grew up in a Protestant town, apparently still is undecided. McDowell, whose father is Protestant and mother is Catholic, made his decision.

"I grew up in Ireland with the dream of playing for Ireland, with the blazer that had the shamrock on it and the golf bag with the emblem of Ireland," said McDowell, who came to the United States in 1998 to play college golf at Alabama-Birmingham, where he won six times in 2002 and earned the Haskins Award as National Player of the Year.

"It's a tough decision, and I was kind of on the fence. Rory got beat up by the media over it. I played for Ireland in the World Cup last year, so I'm Irish and I will be playing for Ireland, hopefully, in the 2016 Olympics."

He has a big Irish following in the U.S. that will be cheering for Team McDowell this week in the old Crosby.
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