McDowell defends French Open as Stadler stumbles
GRAEME McDOWELL overcame an eight-shot deficit to win his first title of 2014 - and successfully defend his French Open crown.
It was a case of McDowell keeping his head while all those around him were losing theirs - quite appropriate for this part of the world, when you think about it. Kevin Stadler, the burly American, started the day with a four-shot lead on the field and that quickly became five when playing partner Thonchai Jaidee got off to a dreadful start and Victor Riu, the home favourite, followed a birdie at the first with a double-bogey and was never again a factor.
It should have been a stroll in the park for Stadler but the wheels began to fall of early in his round. He has always struggled on the greens and seemed to have solved his problems with a long putter, but he missed from 18 inches for par on the fourth and from four feet on the sixth. He then ran up a double-bogey at the seventh, where his wayward drive was only found when somebody stood on it in the rough. He got a free drop but could only hack the ball a few yards and eventually did well to get up and down to limit the damage to six on the par four. By that stage, Stadler was shot to pieces - but there was worse to come.
A poor chip from left of the eighth green led to another bogey and two more early in the back nine looked to have ended his chances as McDowell picked up shots on the 13th, 14th and 16th.
McDowell came to the 18th needing a par for a round of 66, which would have been a magnificent effort on a day when the rain fell and the wind blew, turning an already tricky Golf National into an incredibly difficult test.
The Northern Irishman hit his drive into heavy rough on the right, was unable get home in two and had to settle for a bogey, the only blemish of the day. His 67 was still a magnificent effort but as he surveyed the leaderboard he realised that a par for Stadler at the 18th would mean a playoff.
Incredibly, the American missed yet another tiny putt, this time from two feet, to hand McDowell the title. Stadler's closing 76 left him in a tie for second with Jaidee, who dropped five shots in the first four holes but played the remainder in four under for a 72.
"I'm very surprised," McDowell said after claiming his tenth European Tour title. "Midway through my second glass of red wine last night, when I was very disappointed with my back-nine performance on Saturday, I really didn't think I'd be a) standing here with an opportunity to be in a play-off and b) with a trophy in my hands. I feel very fortunate. Kevin Stadler is a great, great player.
"I literally gave him that putt on the last green. I didn't expect him to miss that. It's not really the way you like to win. I was ready to go for the playoff, but I'll take it and run. I really needed this victory. It's a special one for me. It's pretty timely. There's a busy summer ahead and this is a really good kick-start to the summer."
McDowell has deliberately played a lighter schedule this year to leave himself fresher for the second half of the season. "It's a good decision now, but I have to say I was starting to question it," the former US Open Champion added. "But my body has probably never been in as good a shape at this point in the season coming into two major championships, the FedEx Cup playoffs and hopefully The Ryder Cup. I'm very proud to defend my first title ever and this is the boost I needed on many fronts, especially the Ryder Cup." The win takes him to 10th place on the European points list.
Despite a shaky finish – a double bogey on 18 – Riu's 76 secured him eighth place, enough to secure a place in The Open.
"Obviously I'm delighted," he said. "Although I didn't win, I managed to finish eighth, which I would never have imagined coming into this week. After a bad first half of the season, what happens to me here is a big bonus. And I qualify for The Open, which is the icing on the cake. Playing a major is the dream for any golfer."
Stadler was bitterly disappointed with his performance. "It was tough and I drove it terrible today. If you miss the fairway, you're going to get punished out here. That's just the way it is," he said. "I played great for a couple of days and had tons of chances, but spent all day in the knee deep stuff today and the score showed it.
"It was so miserable on the front nine, I was practically expecting to bogey every hole. It was virtually impossible. I just hung in there and obviously made a couple of birdies late to have a chance. It was unfortunate on the last, I played a little safe second shot and I felt good over the putt, but just whiffed it unfortunately."
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