By Mark Lamport-Stokes
THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - California has been one of Graeme McDowell's happiest hunting grounds and he is delighted to be back in the 'Golden State' for this week's World Challenge.
The Northern Irishman won his first major title in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in Northern California, then five months later he beat tournament host Tiger Woods in a playoff to clinch the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club.
"Obviously it's nice to be back in this part of the world," McDowell told reporters at Sherwood on Wednesday after competing in the tournament's pro-am competition.
"California has been pretty good to me during my career so far, especially this event. I was second in '09 and to win here in 2010 was very special."
McDowell was unable to defend his title at Sherwood last year, opting instead to play in the invitational Nedbank Challenge at Sun City, South Africa.
"Geographically it wasn't a good decision for me to come back here last year," he explained. "I decided to go to Sun City before the Race to Dubai Championship because I figured it would be an easier journey from South Africa to Dubai.
"So it's great to be able to come back here this year. It's a good golf course and there are good memories for me here."
McDowell has not won anywhere since his 2010 World Challenge triumph, though he came close to adding a second major crown to his resume this year after playing in the last group in the final round of both the U.S. Open and the British Open.
"To get to be in the last group of consecutive major championships is satisfying," said the 33-year-old Northern Irishman. "Of course there's a sense of frustration that I didn't do better.
"But winning is difficult. There's a lot of quality, quality players out there. If I could take 18 holes back this year, it would be the first nine holes at Olympic on Sunday, and it would be the first nine holes at Lytham on Sunday."
The U.S. Open was staged at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where McDowell tied for second, while the July 19-22 British Open was played at Lytham St Annes where he finished joint fifth.
"But it's all a great experience," added McDowell. "I've certainly increased my belief that I can prepare well for the big events and ... hopefully win some more major championships."
McDowell has an extra bounce in his step this week, having announced his engagement to Kristin Stape earlier this month at the top of the Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel in Dubai which is designed in the shape of a ship's sail.
"I had been kind of planning it for a little while, wanted to do something a little special," smiled the Northern Irishman. "And it just so happened I was on the road for five weeks there.
"I just thought it was a pretty iconic, special place to do it and I managed to surprise her. I guess there's some romance in this body somewhere."
McDowell will tee off with Australia's Jason Day in Thursday's opening round of the invitational event at Sherwood where 18 players will vie for the $1 million winner's cheque.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)