Sport Golf

Saturday 24 February 2018

Milestones on a 53-week journey which turned G-Mac into a world beater

Sunday, December 6, 2009 ...

CALLED UP at the 11th hour to replace host Tiger Woods at the 2009 Chevron World Challenge, Graeme McDowell carves out a fighting second place behind Jim Furyk, crucially lifting himself from No 56 in the world rankings to 38th.

Getting inside the elite top 50 by year's end qualifies G-Mac for April's US Masters and makes life a lot less difficult for the Ulsterman in the early part of the 2010 season.

"There's no doubt, 53 weeks ago I really started on a journey which has taken me to some amazing places this season," he says. "Obviously I have to thank Chevron and the Tiger Woods Foundation for giving me the opportunity last year.

"I'm a believer in fate. I think people get there, just different paths all lead to the same place really. But I look back and think, 'Would I be sitting here if I hadn't got into the tournament and been second last year?'

"I don't know the answer to that. All I know is I feel pretty fortunate to have played here last year, to have done it, and to have given myself the opportunity to achieve what I achieved this year."

Monday, May 23, 2010 ...

IMAGINE how McDowell's year might have turned out if he'd missed the US Open.

G-Mac decided not to try to qualify for Pebble Beach, gambling that he'd make it into the season's second Major as a member of the world's elite top 50 by the cut-off point after the BMW PGA at Wentworth.

Yet the situation turned out to be a lot tighter than he'd calculated and a hot performance by a couple of guys at the Byron Nelson in Texas that weekend could have knocked him out of the US Open line-up.

"When I woke up that Monday morning and opened the world rankings page on my laptop, I was half afraid to look as I ran one eye down the top 50," McDowell recalls.

To his relief, the Ulsterman was still at No 49. He made the US Open field by 0.05 of a point and his date with destiny at Pebble Beach was still on.

Sunday, June 6 ...

IT was his fifth tournament success on the European Tour but McDowell insists there was something different about his victory at the Celtic Manor Welsh Open.

Though spectacularly achieved, as McDowell squeezed through the cut and then came marauding through the field with rounds of 64 and 63 at the weekend, he says his win in Wales "felt more like a stepping stone" to bigger and better things.

"I feel like I'm in the form of my life right now and I really feel I have a big event in me," he said at that time.

Prophetic words indeed. Having made virtually certain of a return ticket to Celtic Manor for the Ryder Cup in October, McDowell went on to Pebble Beach and the US Open less than a fortnight later with a confident spring in his step.

Sunday, June 20 ...

THE magic of McDowell's US Open victory was encapsulated in a single sentence that famous Sunday evening as he listed the names of those who'd won golf's most exacting championship at Pebble Beach.

"Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, me," said the Portrush hero, shaking his head in near disbelief, simply adding: "Wow!"

McDowell was last man standing on the Pacific Ocean shore that day as a host of household names fell by the wayside, including Woods and Phil Mickelson, not forgetting the unfortunate Dustin Johnson.

The image which will linger forever is McDowell and his dad Kenny locked in an emotional embrace on the 18th green.

He tells a lovely story of their drive to Pebble Beach that afternoon. Before stepping out of the car, McDowell apologised for not getting his dad a Father's Day gift. "That's all right, son," Kenny joked. "Grab me that trophy today and we'll call it quits!"

Monday, October 4 ...

THERE'S a reason why McDowell was sent out 12th by European captain Colin Montgomerie for the Ryder Cup singles.

Monty knew there was nobody tougher than the barrel-chested Northern Irishman if it all came down to a mano-a-mano battle for the Ryder Cup that Monday afternoon.

And McDowell rewarded his skipper's faith in spades, coolly sinking the putt of his life under the eyes of the world for a vital hole-winning birdie at Celtic Manor's daunting 16th.

He then closed out his confrontation with Hunter Mahan 3&1 and clinched Europe's Ryder Cup victory with a winning par-three at 17, sparking one of the wildest celebrations in the event's history.

Ulster's man for all seasons summed it up when he said: "I got extremely nervous coming down the stretch there. I've never felt nerves like it in my life.

"Obviously I was out there trying to win it for me, for my 11 team-mates, for Colin, for Europe and for all of those fans. It was a different level completely to Pebble Beach. This is why this golf tournament is extremely special and will continue to be probably the greatest golf event on the planet."

Sunday, October 31 ...

MARTIN KAYMER looked likely to stroll to victory in Europe's Race to Dubai ... until McDowell ground out a trademark victory at The Andalucia Masters.

As the going got really tough at Valderrama, McDowell came to the fore, holding off the challenge of fellow Irishmen Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane with a final-round 74 -- the same score he had shot to clinch victory on Sunday at Pebble Beach.

His third win of the season propelled McDowell into the world's top 10 for the first time.

Though he would ultimately come up short with a brave bid over five successive weeks to overhaul Kaymer at the top of the European Order of Merit, the Ulsterman deserved respect for keeping the Race to Dubai alive until its final week at the Earth Course.

Sunday, December 5 ...

WHEN Woods borrowed a shot from the glory days and whipped that phenomenal eight-iron to inside three feet for birdie at the 72nd hole of the Chevron World Challenge, few gave his playing companion McDowell any chance of clinching his fourth victory of 2010.

Especially when the Ulsterman's own approach rolled to a halt some 20 feet from the cup. Tiger's bagman Steve Williams certainly didn't fancy the Ulsterman's chances, ripping off his caddie-bib in a brazen act of disrespect as McDowell lined up his putt for birdie.

However, those who know him best were not the least bit surprised when McDowell sank the putt for birdie to force Tiger's tournament into sudden death for the first time.

Nor when he beat Woods on the first tie hole by rolling another 20-footer with a good four feet of left-to-right borrow into the cup for a winning birdie to bring a year of stunning success to a dream-like conclusion.

McDowell goes to this week's Shark Shootout in Florida as world No 7, his highest ever ranking. Last Sunday's €904,776 first prize at Sherwood Country Club boosted his earnings for the year to €5.28m.

But the huge self-belief McDowell takes from 2010 will be utterly priceless -- and even the Tiger knows it!

Irish Independent

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