Resurgent McDowell Kicks Up a Storm in the Desert With Victory
IT MAY not have been especially pretty, but Graeme McDowell won’t care as he celebrates a two-shot victory at the Saudi International. The 40-year-old may have wondered if he would ever win another European Tour event - his most recent success came at the French Open way back in July 2014.
But on a windy day at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, McDowell dug deep to card a hard-fought closing round of 70 that saw him finish the week on 12 under par, two ahead of defending champion Dustin Johnson, who finished with an eagle but could barely hole a putt of any significance all day long. McDowell, on the other hand, will put this victory down to a masterful performance on and around the greens.
McDowell, who won the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010, played most of his golf in Northern Ireland as he grew up so the conditions held no fears for him and he secured the title by coming home in 34 as most of those around him fell by the wayside - none more so than Victor Dubuisson.
Johnson eagled the last in a 67 to finish a shot ahead of fellow American Phil Mickelson, Malaysia's Gavin Green and Belgian Thomas Pieters.
McDowell's 11th European Tour victory takes him back into the top 50 in the world rankings and means he has won in three different decades, which is no mean feat. His total of 16 professional wins have come in 13 different countries and he is determined to have another prolonged spell at the top of the game after claiming his first triumph since turning 40.
"It's special," he said. "I've been working hard the last year-and-a-half. I want to be back up there one more time just to be able to play against these guys. The game of golf is in such great shape, there are so many great players in the world, it's so exciting to be a top player in the world and I want to be back up there again. I'm very excited that it's happened a little faster than I expected but hopefully it's laying some foundations down for having a big year.
"It's been 10 years since I won the 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. I have a solid team, life's settled down. I've got a great wife and great family, I'm very happy with what's going on in my life right now. I feel like the pond, the ripples in the pond have kind of steadied out a little bit now and I'm in a good place to play some good golf. Kevin [Kirk, his coach] said to me, 'There's no reason why the best golf in your career can't still be ahead of you’. I like that. I like that kind of idea. I like that focus."
McDowell went left off the first tee and dropped a shop immediately and did well to save par on the third and fifth before holing an 18 footer on the par three eighth to get back to level for the day. He found sand with his second shot at the ninth to drop back to 11 under and playing partner Dubuisson was in a share of the lead with him at the turn, but it all went horribly wrong for the Frenchman on the back nine.
It all began to go wrong for Dubuisson at the 11th, where he ran up a double bogey and handed McDowell the lead - a lead he would not give up.
Pieters became his nearest challenger as he turned in 33 with birdies on the third, fourth and seventh and a bogey on the ninth. The Belgian added back to back birdies on the 10th and 11th and then bounced back from a bogey on the 16th with a birdie on the next, before pulling an eagle putt from four feet on the last.
When McDowell came up short of the 13th green and made a bogey, the lead was down to one, but he holed from 20 feet on the next and then hit a stunning approach to four feet on the 15th to give himself some breathing room and parred his way home.
Johnson had bogeyed the third but hit back with a brilliant chip-in eagle on the next before a birdie from four feet at the ninth moved him to nine under. A bogey on the 13th left him with too much work to do down the stretch but his closing eagle saw him leapfrog the rest of the chasing pack.
Mickelson made a hat-trick of birdies from the second but would not make another until the last to go with a bogey on the 16th, while Green drove the green for an eagle at the 17th and also birdied the last to get back to level on the day.
England's Ross Fisher eagled the last to finish at seven under alongside Frenchman Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia, Mexican Abraham Ancer and Belgian Thomas Detry.
WEBB SIMPSON produced two wonderful putts at the 18th hole to secure the Waste Management Phoenix One at TPC Scottsdale. He defeated Tony Finau in a playoff in dramatic fashion. First of all, Simpson drained a 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole to draw level with Finau and force the tournament into extra holes and he repeated the feat from almost exactly the same spot when they returned to the hole.
"It’s important to take care of the little things,” Simpson said. “And the big things seem to take care of themselves.”
The victory was Simpson’s sixth, and his first since The Players Championship in 2018. But he has enjoyed some excellent form and has finished runner-up four times since last summer.
A bitterly disappointed Finau was looking to win for the first time since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach. “He got the upper hand this time,” Finau said, “but I love that guy, and that’s one hell of a finish. If you’re going to birdie 18 a couple of times, you’re probably going to win.”
Justin Thomas (65), Bubba Watson (66) and Nate Lashley (68) tied for third, three back.
Simpson looked out of it when he hooked his drive into the water at the par-five 15th hole, and while Finau failed to convert on an eight-foot birdie try, the lead was still two with three to play. Finau seemed to be in complete control.
Simpson nearly hit the flagstick at the notorious par-three 16th but missed his 18-foot birdie attempt. He drove the green at the short, par-four 17th and converted a tough two-putt to cut the lead to one. At the par-four 18th, Simpson converted an uphill, right-to-left putt, forcing Finau to make an eight-footer to win, but he couldn’t do it.
Simpson birdied the 18th again, with a slightly shorter putt on exactly the same line in the playoff. “I didn’t think it was over,” Simpson said of his thoughts walking off the 15th green, “but I thought I am really going to have to do something special to get back in it.”
It was how the winner kept his head in the game after four runner-up finishes – The RSM Classic, Wyndham Championship, World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, RBC Canadian Open – but no wins since last summer. He told himself he was learning something every time, and that he hadn’t so much lost those tournaments as others won them.
“I wasn't in contention at Memphis when I finished second,” he said. “I had a great Sunday. Rory shoots 61 at RBC, J.T. Poston shoots 62 [at Wyndham]. Tyler Duncan birdies 17 and 18 at RSM, which is incredible on those two holes. It could have been easy for me to get down, but as you look at those tournaments, guys played great and that’s the way the game goes sometimes.”
Simpson enjoys TPC Scottsdale - he lost a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama in 2017, and had three other top-10 finishes. The course favours big hitters, which Simpson isn’t, but he makes up for it with pinpoint accuracy with his irons.
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