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McDowell surges into Ryder Cup frame with Saudi victory

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Graeme McDowell poses with the trophy after his triumph at the Saudi International. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell poses with the trophy after his triumph at the Saudi International. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Getty Images

Graeme McDowell poses with the trophy after his triumph at the Saudi International. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell surged into Ryder Cup reckoning and the world's top 50 after closing with a gutsy 70 to win the Saudi International by two shots from Dustin Johnson on 12-under par.

The 2010 US Open champion had not won on the European Tour for five and a half years, but he showed all the fighting qualities that Pádraig Harrington will need from his men at Whistling Straits to clinch his 16th worldwide win and a cheque for $583,330 (€526,050).

"It's special," said McDowell, who is now inside the automatic qualifying places for Harrington's team and projected to leap from 104th to 46th in the world today. "It's so exciting to be a top player in the world and I want to be back up there again.

"I've got young kids at home and I want them to see me out there. I want to show them that Dad can do it and I don't want to have to pull up the YouTube videos. It's special to be back."

Success

McDowell (40) was ranked 262nd in the world 12 months ago but has since won twice, following up last year's PGA Tour win in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship with his 11th European Tour success.

He began the day one stroke clear of his 2014 Ryder Cup partner Victor Dubuisson, but while the Frenchman fell to sixth on seven-under after a 74, McDowell's grittiness came to the fore in blustery conditions.

Belgian Thomas Pieters shot 65 to set the target at nine-under and close to within one stroke, before McDowell made a 25-foot birdie at the 14th and another from three feet at the next to move three clear.

Defending champion Johnson eagled the last for a 67 to get to within two shots of McDowell, but the Portrush veteran drew on his vast experience to close out victory with three pars.

"The birdies on 14 and 15 were just huge at the time," McDowell said. "This is a difficult golf course, it's unusual to win feeling as uncomfortable as I did on a lot of these holes because it's a tough course in tough conditions.

"It's been ten years since I won a US Open, ten years probably since I played the best golf of my life. I feel like I'm moving back in the right direction.

"[My coach] Kevin (Kirk) said to me, 'There's no reason why the best golf in your career can't still be ahead of you'. I like that kind of idea. I like that focus."

Returning to the world's top 50 makes a fifth Ryder Cup cap a realistic proposition for McDowell, who will now get to tee it up in the WGC Mexico Championship and almost certainly the WGC Dell Match Play, with the Masters also within reach.

"A big goal this year was to get back into the top 50," said McDowell. "It has come a lot sooner than I expected. I am just so excited about the year."

Shane Lowry had another solid week, closing with a one-under 69 to finish tied 13th (€47,799) on five-under par before waiting to congratulate McDowell.

Meanwhile, Gary Player and Greg Norman expressed contrasting views on moves to create a breakaway Premier Golf League, where 48 players would split $240million (€216.4million) in prize money.

The Australian, who failed in his bid to form a World Tour in the mid-1980s, thinks the proposed rival tour "has every chance of getting off the ground".

Player, however, slammed the modern stars as greedy and disloyal.

"It is crazy to say you don't like money, but it's not as though they are struggling," he told The Scotsman.

"I think Rory McIlroy made $23million last year without even taking in his contracts. How much money do you want? Loyalty, to me, is very big."

On the Challenge Tour, South Africa's JC Ritchie (25) successfully defended his Limpopo Championship title by carding a five-under 67 to win by two shots from compatriot Wilco Nienaber on 19-under par.

Irish Independent