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What does U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell take away from his week at the Players, the 59 holes of great golf or the 13-hole train wreck?

Graeme McDowell has a lovely term for rhythmic, confident golf swings. He calls them "good feels." Good feels happen when his body is executing what his mind tells it to, his hands in sync with his shoulders, his arms and legs working together, the club resting comfortably in his fingers. McDowell's 2010 season was all about good feels. The first 59 holes of his 2011 Players were all about good feels.

On the 6th tee of the final round, which McDowell began with a one-shot lead, he pushed a tee shot into the trees and everything went haywire. He overcompensated and yanked his tee ball into a pond on 7. He rinsed three more balls, on 13, 17 and 18, ballooning to a final-round 79 and a 33rd-place finish that epitomized his choppy play in the new year. McDowell has labored under the weight of the U.S. Open crown, being the hero of the Ryder Cup and conquering Tiger Woods at his own tournament.

And his wild, 13-hole finish at Pete Dye's palace was void of good feels.

"I said I was going to take the positives away, whatever happened this weekend," McDowell said on Sunday evening as a playoff between his playing partners, K.J. Choi and David Toms, commenced without him. "It's going to hurt for a few hours, but it was a tough task today. The course and the wind got up. It was tricky, and I simply didn't have it."

It was a frank assessment from a player who says he has spent most of the season "playing like an idiot." (He entered the Players having missed the cut in three of his last four starts and finishing 61st in the other.) Analyzing the reasons for his sluggish play, McDowell says he lost focus after such a bountiful 2010.

"Things felt too easy," he says. "You forget the reasons [and] the things you worked on to get you to the point where your golf swing feels easy, so you take your eye off certain departments of your game. I've had zero structure in my practice. I didn't really know what I was trying to achieve, to be honest with you. I've spent the last six weeks beating more balls maybe than I've ever hit, simply searching for something."

A year ago McDowell says he could fix any flaw with a few drills, the clubs felt so right in his hands. This year? "I must have had 30 different swing thoughts," he says.

The weekend before the Players, McDowell's coach, Pete Cowen, met him on a practice tee in Orlando and addressed a right hand that McDowell says was 180 degrees in the wrong position.

"We know what we're trying to achieve now," he says. "We have some drills for the long term."

His U.S. Open defense is a month away. It is time to start experiencing more of those good feels.


Photograph by ROBERT BECK

STUMPED McDowell flailed away on the 9th hole on Sunday after his wayward second shot settled in a bush left of the green.