Updated: June 20, 2012, 2:26 PM ET

McDowell learns from runner-up finish

Harig By Bob Harig
SAN FRANCISCO -- Graeme McDowell spent the day after his disappointing defeat at the U.S. Open visiting vineyards in Napa Valley, tweeting about the experience with some good humor after falling a shot short at the Olympic Club in his quest to win a second U.S. Open.

Certainly there are plenty of players who might have joined McDowell in taking to the bottle or drowning their sorrows or simply wondering what might have been.

That is the nature of coming close in a major championship.

[+] EnlargeGraeme McDowell
AP Photo/Eric RisbergAfter winning the 2010 U.S. Open, Graeme McDowell settled for a second-place tie this year.

For McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach despite shooting a final-round 74, it was the same kind of Sunday at the Olympic Club. Brutal conditions. Misty, cloudy skies. A tough day for scoring.

Playing in the final twosome with Jim Furyk, McDowell seemingly fell out of contention with a poor front nine, then rallied to make it interesting, birdieing the 17th hole to pull within 1 stroke of Webb Simpson, setting up one final chance to tie at the 18th.

But as had been the case throughout the round, McDowell couldn't find the fairway. He hit just three during the final round, and it says something that he was able to score as he did while unable to control his ball from the rough. He managed to get his approach to 25 feet, but his tying birdie putt never had a chance.

"This is sort of a new experience for me, I suppose, finishing second at a major championship," McDowell said. "I would rather have tried and failed than have never tried at all. I think someone fairly familiar must have said that."

True, McDowell, 32, is better for having gotten into the fight again.

Since his player of the year season in 2010 when he won four times around the world and was the hero for the European Ryder Cup team in Wales, McDowell has not won again.

He had difficulty living up to his own expectations in 2011, failing to win again and struggling on a couple of occasions when near the lead.

This year has been similar. He had a runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi, a final-match loss in the European Tour's Volvo Match Play. But he missed the cut at the Players Championship and the European Tour's BMW PGA Championship as well as the week before the Open at the St. Jude Classic.

But his U.S. Open result is his third top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour, including a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also moved up from 21st to 11th in the world. A victory would have given Northern Ireland its third straight U.S. Open title and four of the past nine major championships.

"It's like a really fast, scary roller coaster that you get on at the time and you're not sure if you like it and it's kind of scary," said McDowell, who will make his next start at the Irish Open near his home of Portrush, Northern Ireland. "But once it's done and you look back, you realize that you had a lot of fun and you would like to do it again, and that kind of sums up what it's like to compete on the big stage at a major championship.

"So it hurts. You want it really badly, you practice so hard to be there and it hurts when you're there. But when it's all done you think back and you think, I would like to do that again."

Another close call for Ernie

Ernie Els was lamenting what could have been at Olympic after a tie for ninth that saw him finish 3 strokes back of Webb Simpson. Els played the fourth hole in 4 over par, as well as the par-5 16th, where he made a crushing bogey on Sunday. And yet he played the rest of the holes in 4 under par.

Unlike two years ago, when Els' close call at Pebble Beach sent him into a funk, the Big Easy seems poised to build on the performance.

"I thought I was a lot calmer,'' he said. "I felt in control. So that's a good sign. So we got two majors left, and I'm going to take a nice break now and try and regroup and come back. I feel that where I was last year and where I am now, it's a huge change. I'm contending now, I feel I have a chance, and if I eliminate those mistakes, I could win one of these things again. So I got the belief back.''

One thing Els did not accomplish was assure himself of a place in the Masters. The top eight and ties at the U.S. Open get a Masters invite; Els tied for ninth. However, he is now ranked 39th in the world, and being in the top 50 at the end of the year is one of the numerous ways he can qualify for the 2013 Masters.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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