Thursday 22 February 2018

McDowell rivals Harrington as toughest grinder

Karl MacGinty

GRAEME McDOWELL has a way to go before trumping Padraig Harrington's three Major championships -- but the Portrush man has recently threatened one of the Dubliner's proudest titles.

Victory at Valderrama on Sunday cemented his reputation as a world-class grinder and he now rivals Harrington as the toughest competitor to come out of this island.

The sterling performances of Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin, as they battled to a share of second place with Soren Kjeldsen at the Andalucia Masters, were also in keeping with the proud reputation of the 'fighting Irish' on Tour.

Yet McDowell, like Harrington, has something exceptional. His astonishing success this season has been built on a sturdy foundation: beneath an affable nature and a ready smile lies rock-solid confidence and composure. This 31-year-old relishes a challenge -- the bigger the better, as he proved at Pebble Beach last June when he held off Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and a host of the world's finest to win the US Open.

Comparisons between his march to that first Major title and last Sunday's success extend well beyond the final-round score of 74 McDowell posted on both occasions.

The challenge faced by the field in driving wind at Valderrama last Sunday was best summed up by TV pundit Wayne Riley, as he explained that the course set-up and conditions were as tough as anything they'd find in the Major championship arena.

So it's not by accident, he contended, that European Tour regulars McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen prevailed at the last three Majors. They're well used to toughing it out and scrapping hard for par.

Whatever one's views of the world rankings system, it's worthy of note that six of the top 10 in the list issued yesterday are European.

McDowell, up to a career high at No 10, has given Race to Dubai leader Kaymer every reason to cast anxious glances over his shoulder at the HSBC World Championship of Golf in Shanghai this week.

McDowell is determined to finish the Race to Dubai on a high note and, given his form and soaring morale, the €528,561 between him and Kaymer is a mere trifle alongside the €16.5m-plus prize money on offer over the next four weekends.

As the jaded German flagged at Valderrama, tumbling into a tie for 21st place, there probably could have been no more dispiriting sight for Kaymer than McDowell merrily grinding down his lead in the Race to Dubai. An intriguing end-of-season battle had just begun.

Irish Independent

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