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Men's Golf: What Is Surging Graeme McDowell's Ceiling for 2013?

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Men's Golf: What Is Surging Graeme McDowell's Ceiling for 2013?
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Known as G-Mac to his enthusiastic fan base, Graeme McDowell is one of the golfing world’s most well-liked stars, both on and off the links.

With an affinity for all things that can fit into a pint, the Northern Irishman has made a career by keeping his Srixon in the short grass and his outlook upbeat, even if there have been a few bumps along the way.

In case you don’t follow December golf (it is technically the offseason), McDowell notched a three-shot victory at Tiger’s World Golf Challenge earlier this month, ending a winless drought of nearly two years.

It’s fitting that the golfer’s last win came at the 2010 World Golf Challenge—which was also played at California’s Sherwood Country Club—but don’t be too quick to write off McDowell’s latest triumph as a one-course affair.

In fact, there’s a strong possibility that the win can serve as a jumping-off point for a stellar 2013 campaign. 

Before we delve into the details, however, a G-Mac history lesson is essential.

The most important thing to know is that the golfer’s play has been historically rather streaky. After winning the Haskins Award—essentially the collegiate POY award—in his senior year at University of Alabama Birmingham, McDowell turned pro in 2002. 

Over the next eight years, he bounced back and forth between the European and PGA Tours, making a modest paycheck, but failing to gain a multi-year exemption to play in America full time.

This lifestyle, which was surely having a detrimental effect on McDowell’s sleep schedule, was altered forever with a gritty performance at the 2010 U.S. Open.

Played at windswept Pebble Beach that year, McDowell notched a one-shot victory for his first—and only—major championship title, outlasting previous winners Ernie Els and Tiger Woods.

While the win granted G-Mac a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, the golfer’s play the following year was mediocre at best. In 16 PGA and nine European events in 2011, McDowell failed to cash any first-place “big checks” (insert Happy Gilmore reference stage right).

In last year’s majors, McDowell’s play was even less inspiring, as he missed the cut in three of the four tournaments.

Though his scoring average and money list ranking did improve this year, he still wasn’t completely happy with his game prior to winning the 2012 World Golf Challenge.

McDowell shared his sentiments with ESPN. “I characterize these last two years, the first eight months were just an absolute writeoff," he admitted. "Just wasn't myself. Frustration. Dealing with my new status, I guess, within the game.” 

It’s understandable that McDowell has had issues transitioning into the upper echelon of the PGA, but we have to point out that 2012 was technically his best year in terms of major championship performance. Consider the following four statistical nuggets:

The 2012 season marked the first time in McDowell’s 11-year career that he made weekend play in all four majors. 

G-Mac notched top five finishes in both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

In the Masters and PGA Championship tournaments, McDowell finished at T12 and T11 respectively. 

For the first time since 2009, McDowell made the cut in those two majors. 

In other words, G-Mac barely missed out on going four-for-four in major top tens this year, and he played his best golf at the Masters and PGA since becoming a full-fledged pro on the U.S. circuit.

Equally as impressive is his performance on the statistical front. As seen on PGATOUR.com, McDowell’s driving accuracy (70.1 percent) and GIR percentage from 100+ yards (65.8 percent) were career highs.

So what does all of this information mean for Graeme McDowell as we head into 2013?

How many PGA Tour wins will Graeme McDowell have in 2013?

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Well, for starters, it’s safe to say that the Irishman’s victory at this month’s World Golf Challenge wasn’t a flash in the pan. Rather, it looks like the result of some very solid play at this year’s major championships, undoubtedly led by improvements in the “accuracy department” on the course. 

With a strong performance at last year’s Masters, it’s entirely plausible that McDowell will be in contention again next April, which would set him up quite nicely for the remainder of the season.

We’re encouraged by the golfer’s willingness to better himself after a year spent adjusting to a full-time American schedule, and a PGA victory in 2013 looks to be in the cards.

An adequate ceiling for McDowell next year is:

Two PGA Tour non-major victories

One major championship victory

$4.5 million in winnings

A return to the OWGR top ten

A few too many pints at his new “Nona Blue” tavern

Feel free to share your predictions in the comments section below or by taking the poll above. For some mildly boring tweets, follow me on Twitter @mjakemann.

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