DARREN Clarke has tipped fellow Portrush man Graeme McDowell to launch a serious challenge for the US Open at Merrion this week.

The world number seven won his first major at Pebble Beach three years ago, and will be one of the favourites to claim the second major of 2013, as the short course in Pennsylvania is ideally suited to his game.

Clarke, whose best US Open finish was a tied-tenth spot in 1999, believes that McDowell will be looking forward to the four-day event - which starts on Thursday - and comes into the tournament in promising form having picked up a couple of wins recently.

“With the course being a little bit shorter, it will suit G-Mac down to the ground,” said Clarke in an interview last week. “Merion gives him a fantastic chance to add a second US Open to his CV. He has won a couple of times this season, at Hilton Head and then in Bulgaria a few weeks ago, so he is obviously playing really well.

“G-Mac can get it out there but he is not one of the big bombers so a shorter course suits him.”

Looking ahead to his first major appearance of the season after missing the Masters with a hamstring injury, Clarke is hoping that his own game will click into place during his first US Open appearance for four years.

“I am not competitively sharp, but I am working hard,” added the 44-year-old. “I am swinging the club well but am just not back into scoring mode.

“The US Open is the toughest test, they do not give you any margin for error at all. With the rough as thick as it is.”

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy goes into the 113th US Open trying to find consistency after a season that has tested his determination and perseverance.

“It seems like every time that I’ve got a bit of momentum, I take two steps forward and then take one step back. But I’m getting there.”