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McDowell wins Woods Showpiece

With an excellent round, McDowell must love the sherwood course, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Dec 04, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

mcdowell

Two of Europe’s Ryder Cup heroes from the miracle of Medinah, have brought their competitive year to a winning conclusion with victories on either side of the Atlantic.  While Martin Kaymer was complementing the Nedbank Champions Challenge success of compatriot Bernhard Langer at Sun City, Graeme McDowell was repeating an earlier victory by himself, in Tiger Woods’s World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, California.

McDowell’s success was especially interesting, because of his eventful if decidedly brief history in the Woods showpiece. It will be recalled that he made his Sherwood debut in 2009 on a last-minute invitation to replace the host, who withdrew completely from competitive action at that stage because of the notorious events of Thanksgiving Day, a week earlier.

It could be said that McDowell grabbed his chance at the splendid event.  By holing a short putt on the 72nd, he claimed second place behind Jim Furyk for an early Christmas gift to himself of $800,000.  More importantly, he cemented his position in the world’s top-50, leading to appearances in all four Majors in 2010, including, of course, the US Open at Pebble Beach, where he displayed tremendous competitive steel to capture the title.   

That particular Chevron, as it was then known, was also notable for the presence of a distinguished observer from this side of the pond. Padraig Harrington, who won title in 2002 and later captured three Major championships from six in 2007 and 2008, brought his grizzled coach, Bob Torrance, along to show him how the other half lived. Prior to that, Torrance was content to limit his travels across America to no further west than Fort Worth, Texas where he gained a much-prized audience with his golfing idol, Ben Hogan.

Sadly, Harrington and Torrance split up during the Irish Open at Killarney the following July, but not before the coach had the opportunity of travelling from Thousand Oaks to the Titleist facility at Carlsbad outside San Diego, to view the latest high-tech elements of the modern game.

Instituted as the Williams World Challenge in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1999, this end-of-year tournament with a select, 18-man field, has become an important fund-raising exercise for the Tiger Woods Foundation.  And it has also done much for the competitive well-being of the man himself, given victories in 2001, 2006, 2007 and last year.  One he dearly coveted, however, was snatched from him by McDowell in 2010, when the Northern Irishman did what Woods had been doing for years to hapless rivals, as in sinking long, decisive putts over the closing holes.

As it happened, that victory of two years ago was the last by McDowell on either side of the Atlantic.  Yet it came as little more than a welcome bonus at the time, at the end of his most productive year as a tournament professional, whereas it was a crushing blow to Woods in his pursuit of golfing rehabilitation.

Ironically, last Sunday’s outcome was more important to McDowell, especially since it was characterised by some splendid putting, an area of his game which must have been causing him concern during the preceding months.  Crucially, he single-putted the last three greens.  The first of these was a 10-footer for birdie at the long 16th.  Then came a tap-in from the edge of the cup on the short 17th where he played an absolutely glorious chip into the fringe, from thick rough off the green.  After two hops in the fringe grass, the ball reached the putting surface with just about sufficient pace to take it down towards the pin and almost into the hole.

Then, having told his caddie, Kenny Comboy, on the 18th tee that a three-wood and seven iron should see him home, he proceeded to hit those clubs to perfection.  And he emphasised his superiority over closest challenger, Keegan Bradley, by sinking a four and a half foot birdie effort on the 72nd for a three-stroke victory on 17 under par.  As for Woods: having finished several strokes out of the reckoning, his only comfort was in the success the event had been for his Foundation.

So, in three starts at Sherwood CC, McDowell has finished second, first, first.  Which is a decidedly comforting statistic to take with you on a 10-week winter break.

- Dermot Gilleece

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