ORLANDO, Fla. -- All manner of friends, family and acquaintances are at Bay Hill this week to watch Graeme McDowell play in his adopted hometown at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he had his first early success in America.
And it wouldn't hurt to have some more this weekend.
McDowell, now 39, is languishing as the 259th-ranked player in the world. The 2010 U.S. Open champion is looking forward to a return to Pebble Beach this summer and the site of his greatest victory. But it is the only major championship for which he is currently eligible -- all based on that win nine years ago.
Adding a bit more urgency is the fact that the Palmer tournament for the first time is an Open Championship qualifying event, meaning the top three finishers not already exempt who finish in the top 10 will earn a spot in the field this summer at Royal Portrush.
"I only found that out on Tuesday, to be honest with you,'' McDowell said after shooting 68 Thursday at Bay Hill. "But listen, I'm focusing really on the big picture right now. I'm kind of of the opinion that good golf will take care of the things that I want to take care of. And it's hard enough going out there trying to get your golf ball around 18 holes here at this great golf course and just trying to stay in the moment, stay in the present.''
Yeah, sure. Good luck with that, Graeme
His hometown happens to be Portrush, Northern Ireland -- where The Open is returning for just the second time and first since 1951.
Royal Portrush is considered one of the top golf courses in the world, certainly among the finest links. To play an Open not only in his home country but his hometown?
There is no denying it is on his mind, and having an opportunity to lock that down this week adds a bit more pressure.
Although McDowell spent most of his youth on the lower course at Portrush called the Valley Links, the championship course called the Dunluce Links has seen its share of McDowell over the years.
"You weren't allowed on the big course until you were 15 [years old] or a 15 handicap,'' McDowell said. "I remember sneaking out there summer evenings with my dad, and felt like I was busting into Augusta. I probably played 500 rounds there at least, and that's probably on the low side. I know that golf course incredibly well.
"It's not the course I grew up on, per se. But it's next door to the course I grew up on. Good memories there.''
McDowell also has excellent memories of Pebble Beach, where he played in the final group with Dustin Johnson and held off the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open in what turned out to be a dream year.
He also won the Wales Open and French Open on the European Tour, beat Woods in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge and clinched the winning point for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
Since then, McDowell won two more European Tour titles, as well as two more on the PGA Tour, while also playing on Ryder Cup teams in 2012 and 2014.
But last year, McDowell failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the second straight year, and he has battled to climb the world rankings. He's had just a single top-10 finish in each of the past two years and played in only three major championships in that time. His last top-10 in a major was a tie for ninth at the 2014 Open.
"It's literally just life,'' said McDowell, who with his wife, Kristin, has a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. "Life. Life just got in the way. Mostly the family stuff. I don't think I ever sat back and rested on my laurels. My practice changed, the time that I was giving to the game changed and I was less effective in what I was doing. It snuck up on me. It sort of happened before I realized it had happened, but it's just life. Life got in the way and it's hard to get it back.
"I've been chipping at it but it's hard to get it back. But I'm trying to enjoy that process of digging myself back up there.''
The Palmer is one of 13 qualifying events around the world that offer spots for The Open. The RBC Canadian Open, the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the John Deere Classic are other PGA Tour events offering spots. The Irish Open and the Scottish Open on the European Tour are also opportunities to get in The Open field, as is moving into the top 50 in the world by May 27.
But with many of the players at Bay Hill hovering around the top 10 already in The Open field, this provides an excellent opportunity.
"I'm just trying to take a little pressure off myself and just realize that I love this game,'' McDowell said. "I love being out there and I love doing what I do. Trying to get out of my own way. I'm trying to embrace the challenge right now and enjoy the process of turning it out of the little hole I've dug myself. And I'm starting to play some good golf, I'm starting to like the way I'm hitting it and I would love to have a great year and obviously get myself to Portrush at the end of that road.''