Thursday 13 December 2018

Graeme McDowell falters at Genesis Open as Bubba Watson joins elite club

Graeme McDowell reacts as his putter runs cold on the final day of the Genesis Open at the Riviera Country Club. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell reacts as his putter runs cold on the final day of the Genesis Open at the Riviera Country Club. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Graeme McDowell had a day to forget as an emotional Bubba Watson returned to the world's top 50 with his third Genesis Open win in five years.

Without a victory since his 2016 victory at storied Riviera Country Club, the flamboyant left-hander (39) closed with a two-under 69 to win by two shots from Tony Finau and Kevin Na on 12-under par and join Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Lloyd Mangrum and Macdonald Smith as a three-time winner at California course.

McDowell's hopes of refilling "the confidence tank" following his slip to 219th in the world suffered a hiccup when he made six bogeys in seven holes from the ninth, hitting just three fairways as he shot a six-over 77 to finish tied 26th on two-under.

Tied for third, just two shots behind Watson overnight, the 2010 US Open champion (38) birdied the par-five first but three-putted the third to remain two adrift of the left-hander and local boy Patrick Cantlay, fourth in the end alongside Scott Stallings, with 10 holes to go.

He needed his putter to warm up, but his title challenge went cold instead at the ninth, where he missed the green with his third after bunkering his drive. Chasing birdies after that error, he failed to get up and down for pars after further mistakes off the tee at the 10th, 11th and 12th, then three-putted the 14th and bogeyed the 15th to take some of the gloss off what was an otherwise encouraging week.

It was the opposite for Watson, who went out in one-over to trail Cantlay by a stroke.

But as the likes of Stallings and Phil Mickelson failed to keep their title charges going, he crucially holed a 15-yard bunker shot for birdie two at the 14th to lead by two strokes on 11-under.

Finau and Na birdied the 17th to close within one, but couldn't birdie the 18th and two-time Masters champion duly birdied the penultimate par-five 17 before closing out his 10th PGA Tour triumph with an eight footer at the last.

As Pádraig Harrington closed with a three-over 74 to finish tied 64th on five-over, Rory McIlroy saved the best for last, finishing with back-to-back birdies to follow Saturday's 73 with a three-under 68 for a share of 20th on three-under.

"I feel like I played better than the result suggested," McIlroy said. "I was a little scrappy here and there but I played okay. Nothing to be discouraged by in any way. I feel good about my game going into next week at the Honda."

The Co Down man took home $78,000 - a drop in the ocean for a man with PGA Tour career earnings of $35.5 million.

Bank

But the money meant more to Team Ireland's Neil O'Briain (31), who was smiling all the way to the bank after he clinched third place and a career-best, €23,000 payday in the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am.

The Dubliner closed with a flawless, six-under 66 on the Montagu Course at Fancourt to finish on 15-under and five shots behind South Africa's Jaco Ahlers, whose 64 gave him a place in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in August.

"It was doubly nice because we were playing for the biggest purse on the Sunshine Tour bar the co-sanctioned events," O'Briain said.

"That's a big help because I am getting married on November 23 and I could do with the cash."

After being hit by injury last season, he added: "It felt like it was all slipping away with all the injuries problems I had last year. So it's nice to see it come together again now.

"This result pushes me into the top 50 in the Order of Merit, and if I can remain there... that would give me a very good chance of getting into the (European Tour) co-sanctioned events (next year)."

 

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