Graeme McDowell decided to play The American Express this year for the first time since 2003 and after Round 1, that seems to be the right decision as he aims to get his career back on track.
The past two years have been tough for the 2010 U.S. Open winner. Since the 2020 Sony Open, where he placed T-4, he's had only one top-10 on Tour (2021 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, T-4), falling nearly 300 spots in the world ranking to No. 340. Last season, he made five cuts in 15 events before an injury ended his season in May. And despite regaining his health for the start of the 2021-22 campaign, he's missed four cuts in six starts, including last week.
But the 42-year-old Northern Irishman is finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel after a first-round 6-under 66 has him T-13, though he's just a stroke away from being T-5 and four shots off of the lead.
"It's definitely, last six months, been a lot of sort of soul searching, if you like," McDowell said following his round, "and I think I've become a bit more settled physically about kind of what I'm trying to do with the golf ball and it's really just been trying to get the head kind of screwed on the right way this season.
"I feel like I've kind of got things kind of where I want it, trying to take a very nice consistent approach to the season, try and do the right things as much as I possibly can, not too much pressure being put on myself on a day-to-day basis and that's really how I'm trying to go about this season."
This season is the final year of his Tour exemption from winning the 2019 Puntacana Championship and McDowell hopes switching up his schedule a bit from years past helps him keep his PGA Tour status.
"I was sort of 50/50 between here and Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open) and guys were telling me I would like this place better from a setup point of view more so than Torrey Pines, with it being such a long, tough golf course," he said.
The four-time Tour winner said missing the cut last week in Hawaii looks to be a blessing in disguise because he had more time to prepare for this week, and despite his inexperience on the course, he's looking to prolong his long-awaited success.
"I played quite well in Hawaii last week, disappointed to (miss the cut) by one in the end and came in here feeling like I know what I'm doing with the golf ball," he said. "So, first time seeing La Quinta, I was pretty happy with that effort and back at it tomorrow."