Sport Golf

Sunday 18 August 2019

Graeme McDowell back to his best with play-off triumph

A relieved and delighted Graeme McDowell can look forward to a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour after yesterday’s victory in Mexico in which he pipped Russell Knox
A relieved and delighted Graeme McDowell can look forward to a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour after yesterday’s victory in Mexico in which he pipped Russell Knox
McDowell began the day tied with Russell Knox

William S Callahan

Graeme McDowell won his first PGA Tour title since April 2013 with victory at the first play-off hole in the OHL Classic in Mexico.

The 2010 US Open winner admits the barren run - his last win was at the French Open 16 months ago - left him questioning his ability after dropping out of the world's top 50.

But after handing the initiative to fellow co-leader Russell Knox by bogeying the 16th as the rain-delayed tournament went into an extra day, he seized his second chance at the first play-off hole with a brilliant approach to two feet for birdie to guarantee himself a place at next year's Masters and PGA Championship.

"It really gives me something to grab onto," McDowell said of the victory.

"You go through a year like this and you think, 'Am I finished? Am I good enough?'


"It has been a tough year but this is special. I have been dreaming of this day and I said to myself I was going to appreciate it when it came, so I'm going to appreciate this one.

"This whole year's been a grind. My whole team, my caddy, my coach, my wife, know it's been a tough year.

"I've stuck to my task the last couple of months and this is a nice step back up to where I want to be.

"A big thank you to everyone who's stuck with me and believed in me.

"This is where I want to be. I want to win more tournaments and I want to win more Major championships," said McDowell.

The winning of the tournament came in style on the first play-off hole.

"I hit as good a five-iron as I could hit and it was nice to knock in a two-and-a-half footer to take care of this," he said.

McDowell began the day tied with Knox on 19-under after Sunday's final day was cut short by storms but after a brief stoppage for more rain, Knox made his move with a birdie at the 13th.

The Scot, chasing back-to-back victories after winning the WGC-HSBC Champions last week, handed back that shot at the next but it was McDowell's error in leaving his par putt in the jaws of the hole at the 16th which opened the door for Knox.

As the man from Portrush posted the clubhouse lead on 18-under - holing a nerveless 10-footer for par - Knox stood on the 18th tee needing a par-four for victory.

However, he pulled his drive into a bunker, came up short of the green and missed from 15 feet for victory.

Jason Bohn, who had started the day two behind, joined them in the play-off but when McDowell, first to play his approach to the 18th, hit a five-iron to two feet, victory was his as neither of his rivals could match his birdie.

The success of that shot owed much to the key intervention of McDowell's long-time caddy, Ken Conboy.

Conboy, who was on the bag for that 2010 US Open win, again proved his value at a crucial moment.

McDowell had struck a fine three-wood shot off the tee of a hole where he struggled with driver earlier in the week.

But when the player wanted to hit six-iron, Conboy insisted on a smooth five-iron - and he was proven right.

Victory was sweet and the benefits sweeter. Apart from first prize of $1,116,000 (€1,042,687), McDowell is exempt on the PGA Tour until September 2018 and also gets into the Masters next April, having missed out in 2015.

The 36-year-old can also plan his schedule for a hectic 2016 to suit his own requirements.

He has already signalled that his intention is to focus more on the PGA Tour than in Europe.

Hard-nosed business reasons make that a no-brainer. Professional golfers are self-employed and the rewards for even the 'average' tournaments in America outweigh most of those on the European circuit.

Irish Independent

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