McDowell finding his Major worth again
Some will take the performance of Graeme McDowell at The Players Championship as evidence that the Ulsterman is once again the player who last summer hurtled to world prominence by winning the US Open.
Well he's not!
McDowell is a markedly better player now than he was even at Pebble Beach that unforgettable Sunday last June.
Having carved a niche for himself in the upper echelons of the world game with a spectacular winning spree which stretched all the way up to December, McDowell now believes what many others have known about him for a long time.
The affable 31-year-old from Portrush performed over a stop-start weekend at the Stadium Course in Sawgrass with the calm self-assurance of a man who is comfortable in the exacting role of Major champion.
Fatigue inevitably had played its part in the seven previous weeks, when McDowell struggled to find the rhythm and the confidence which had underpinned his world-beating feats in 2010. Yes, it took an intensive work-in with his swing coach Pete Cowen recently to put the zing back into McDowell's ball-striking.
Within days, however, McDowell was back where he belonged, in the hunt for golf's biggest prizes. Opening rounds of 69 and 67 sent him into the weekend with the scent of glory in his nostrils for the first time this year.
Utterly unfazed as storms left him sitting in the clubhouse for most of Saturday, he calmly took advantage of benign playing conditions as dusk approached, landing three birdies in the five holes he managed to complete before darkness fell.
As he resumed his third round on the sixth green yesterday morning, McDowell was tied for the lead on 11-under with Nick Watney, one ahead of Steve Stricker and David Toms.
McDowell then appeared to take the tournament by the scruff of the neck, bringing his birdie haul to four with his second chip-in of the round for birdie at 10.After picking up another couple of shots at 16 and 17, he was three ahead of his closest challenger, Toms, playing the last.
However, McDowell's hopes of completing his first bogey-free round in 14 at Sawgrass were dashed by an outrageous stroke of misfortune at 18 when his approach took a wicked bounce and ended up in the lake.
A poor putt from the fringe was perhaps the most infuriating part of the double-bogey six which left McDowell with a third round 68 and a lead of just one entering last night's final round.
Yet there was little hint of panic or frustration as he girded himself for the three-ball confrontation with Toms and KJ Choi. The experience he has had down the stretch at the US Open and the Ryder Cup have taught him how to stay cool under pressure.
"I've learned to control the nerves. The more you do it, the more you understand it," he said. "Before I was very nervous. You can't feel your body, you can't see your visuals. Now I have keys to help me through that."
McDowell would have that resolve sorely tested in the fourth round. After Toms edged ahead with birdies at two and four, the Ulsterman holed a great putt from 60 feet to draw level.
After a bogey at six, which Toms birdied to move two clear, McDowell pulled his tee shot into the water at seven. Suddenly, he was three behind but few are tougher when the chips are down on Sunday.
- Ashleigh Simon claimed victory at the Portugal Ladies Open by three strokes after a final round 67 near Lisbon. Ireland's Rebecca Codd banked €1250 in a tie for 44th place on six-over par after closing with an 81. Amateurs Leona and Lisa Maguire, 16, both missed Saturday's cut, as did Martina Gillen.