Saturday 19 August 2017

Sergio savours return to top as McDowell left to ponder horror show

Karl MacGinty

THE first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Defending champion Graeme McDowell suffered a collapse of near-biblical proportions over the weekend at Valderrama, while Spain's prodigal son Sergio Garcia, who missed the cut here 12 months ago, completed stunning back-to-back victories on home soil at the Andalucia Masters.

Garcia's record romp on his home course in Castellon the previous week had been impressive but in seeing off Miguel Angel Jimenez yesterday on Europe's most daunting course, he proved he's a real world-beater once again.

At the finish, Jimenez playfully refused to allow Garcia admission to the recorder's hut to sign for the level-par 71 that clinched his 10th European Tour win by one stroke on six-under and propelled Sergio back into the world's top 20.

"Every win is important but this one is really special because of where it is and the history of close calls I've had at Valderrama," said Garcia (31), who warmly embraced Welsh girlfriend Nicola Horrex as he left the final green following a nerveless up-and-down from bottomless rough for a winning par.

No Spaniard has ever won at their most famous venue. Yet Garcia admitted he'd occasionally wondered over the grim past two years if he'd ever fight his way back into golf's upper echelons.

Ticket

"I knew I had the game but if your head's not in the right spot, your arms don't do what they're being told to do," said Garcia, who has declined a last-minute ticket to this week's HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

His words may resonate with McDowell after nightmarish closing rounds of 81 and 82 left him in last pace on 25-over.

After his victory here last year, the Portrush man certainly experienced Valderrama's vicious side as he posted successive rounds in the 80s for the first time.

McDowell had 14 bogeys, two doubles, a treble and no birdies over his final 36 holes as he failed once again to find the form, rhythm and confidence which made him a world-beater in 2010.

His treble-bogey seven on 10 yesterday summed up the horrors which awaited McDowell among Valderrama's dense cork oak trees.

Golfers joke that trees are 90pc air, but at Valderrama they're 100pc pure malice, as McDowell discovered as he pulled his tee-shot at 10 onto the 18th fairway and twice saw his ball rebound off branches before he'd get it anywhere close to the green.

Insisting his swing is at issue, not last winter's change of clubs, he said: "I'm very happy with my equipment. I'm very unhappy with my golf swing.

"Technically, I'm not the same guy I was last year and I have work to do to put it right."

Irish Independent

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