Saturday 17 March 2018

'Binary golf' gets McDowell from zero to hero in France

A jubilant Graeme McDowell holds the French Open trophy aloft
A jubilant Graeme McDowell holds the French Open trophy aloft

William S Callahan

IRISH golf's amazing 'win-or-bust' magician Graeme McDowell brilliantly conjured up his third victory in just 77 days on one of Europe's toughest courses.

McDowell added the French Open to his glittering collection of national championships with a magnificent final-round 67 on 'The Albatros' at Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Yet in recent months, the Portrush phenomenon has also baffled golf followers with a few perplexing disappearing acts.

McDowell's run of results since April's US Masters have been astounding as he racked up three wins and four worrying missed cuts in seven outings.

This staggering sequence started when McDowell failed to make the weekend at Augusta, then nine days later won the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.


He then completed just 36 holes at the Players Championship in Sawgrass before beating all-comers in his next outing, the Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria.

After missing three prestige cuts on the trot at the BMW PGA, the US Open and the Irish Open, McDowell registered yesterday's fabulous first place in France, where the €500,000 winner's cheque boosted his earnings since April to a whopping €2.16m.

"It's been a very strange stretch, real binary golf," chuckled McDowell. "It's been all zeroes and ones.

"The ones have been very special, while the zeroes motivated me," added the 33-year-old, expected to rise to No 6 in today's world rankings and rated high among the favourites for next week's British Open at Muirfield.

"The US Open certainly was a tough one to take, as was missing the cut in Ireland, but they made me even more hungry for weekends like this.

"No question, the last couple of months it's been a bit of a battle. It's been a funny old year because my game hasn't felt far away most weeks, but missing cuts really hurts."

McDowell, who won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 and also counts the Scottish, Welsh and Italian national titles among 10 European victories, now has 13 professional wins worldwide.

He had to show famous fighting qualities during yesterday's battle with Richard Sterne before the sturdy South African's luck ran out on the formidable four-hole finishing stretch at Le Golf National. Sterne finished four off the pace after his even-par 71.

Tied on five-under setting out, the Ulsterman holed a 16-foot birdie putt on the first but Sterne got back on level terms with his first birdie at three.

They swapped blows like two Roman gladiators at five. Sterne made birdie after his putt from a swale behind the green bobbled and bumped its way into the cup.

McDowell nobly congratulated him then showed his true mettle by coolly holing from eight feet for a birdie of his own.

As the final day's only true contenders, this head-to-head between McDowell and Sterne in the final group became a veritable match-play battle.

It swung in Sterne's favour as McDowell's putter, the only conceivable chink in his armour in Paris, failed him as he missed a six-footer for birdie at six and then couldn't make par from a similar distance at seven, leaving him one behind.

After both made four at the par-five ninth, McDowell drew level after a superlative approach shot over a yawning bunker to a tight front pin at 10 set him up for a splendid birdie.

The first crack appeared in Sterne's facade when he made bogey five out of deep trouble to the right of 12.

Yet the turning point came at 15 and 16, where McDowell could only smile in wonder as two five-foot putts he believed he'd missed both fell into the hole. He even blew a parting kiss at the cup as he left 16 two clear of Sterne, who had dropped a shot out of the left greenside rough.

Another bogey by the South African at 17 gave McDowell a four-shot cushion – precious breathing space going up 18, one of the most intimidating finishing holes in Europe.

McDowell made only four bogeys in 72 holes, a remarkable feat on such a difficult course. "We'll have one of the greatest Ryder Cup venues in history on our hands here in 2018," he said.

Gareth Shaw (27) followed up a lucrative fifth place at the Irish Open with a tie for 13th in France after a closing 69. A €44,240 cheque boosted the Lurgan native's earnings in the past fortnight to €106,140. Yet he finished just one shot outside the top 10 (and a ticket to this week's Scottish Open), making Shaw's double-bogey at 15 yesterday all the more frustrating.

A 68 lifted Gareth Maybin into a tie for eighth, worth €61,800, his biggest cheque since sharing fifth in Abu Dhabi in January 2011.

Damien McGrane blazed his way into contention with five birdies on his front nine but had to settle for a 69 and 18th place on one-over after dropping three shots on the way home. Still, a €35,100 cheque lifts him to 100 on the money list.

Graeme McDowell's third win of the season in the Alstom Open de France has lifted him from ninth to sixth in the latest world rankings.

McDowell carded a final round of 67 at Le Golf National to win by four shots from South Africa's Richard Sterne and make it three wins and five missed cuts from his last eight events.

On the PGA Tour, Sweden's Jonas Blixt also shot a final round of 67 to win the Greenbrier Classic and moves from 103rd to 51st in the standings.

Latest leading positions in official world rankings:

1 Tiger Woods (USA) 12.54, 2 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 8.97, 3 Justin Rose (Eng) 7.93, 4 Adam Scott (Aus) 7.20, 5 Matt Kuchar (USA) 6.42, 6 Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 6.20, 7 Brandt Snedeker (USA) 5.916, 8 Phil Mickelson (USA) 5.910, 9 Luke Donald (Eng) 5.70, 10 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 5.05, 11 Steve Stricker (USA) 4.93, 12 Lee Westwood (Eng) 4.79, 13 Ernie Els (Rsa) 4.753, 14 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 4.752, 15 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 4.74, 16 Keegan Bradley (USA) 4.61, 17 Bubba Watson (USA) 4.53, 18 Jason Day (Aus) 4.38, 19 Webb Simpson (USA) 4.31, 20 Ian Poulter (Eng) 4.23

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