‘Fortunate’ Graeme McDowell clinches late WGC win
Rory McIlroy comfortably beat Boo Weekley 3&2, Ian Poulter furious with defeat to Ricky Fowler
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his tee shot on the second hole during the first round of the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championship at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain. Photograph: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell produced a comeback worthy of Lazarus himself when he recovered from three down with three to play to beat big-hitting pal Gary Woodland with a birdie at the 19th in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play on Wednesday night.
The Ulsterman was reeling, four down after seven and three down with three to play before the man from Kansas lost his nerve coming down the stretch and McDowell used all his matchplay nous to clinch a memorable victory by rolling in a six footer for a sweet birdie three at the first extra hole.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have got through that match,” a relieved but delighted McDowell said at the finish. “You could feel the momentum swinging. It wasn’t hard for me to feel positive momentum because I hadn’t felt any all day.
“He had pretty much pummelled me for the first nine holes — like it would have been in a boxing ring and I would not like to fight the guy. He’s a talented player and he didn’t make mistakes and just threw the kitchen sink at me. But just when you think you are dead and buried, (you get) a little luck from the gods.
“Three down with three to go, you are just trying to get to the next hole but he goes over the back and makes bogey on 16. I get to 17 and made the putt. Made it to 18 and he makes the mistake after I hit a good second shot in.”
Rory McIlroy also joined McDowell in the second round. He had too much firepower for Boo Weekley, whom he easily despatched 3&2 to set up a mouthwatering clash with the impressive American Harris English on Thursday.
Nothing that McIlroy did could match the sheer drama of McDowell’s comeback victory that owed as much to Woodland’s inexperience as it did to the Ulsterman’s gritty determination.
Having lost the first three holes, the 2010 US Open champion found himself four down after seven and facing a first round exit for the fifth time in seven years. After halving the par-five eighth in birdie, McDowell clawed his way back to two down by draining a 30 footer for birdie at the ninth and a nine footer for a winning birdie four at the 11th. When Woodland birdied the 15th to go three up with three to play, all looked lost. But the 29-year old American handed McDowell the par-three 16th when he overshot the green by 15 yards and failed to make the putting surface in two.
McDowell applied more pressure with a super second to 12 feet at the par-four 17th and holed the putt to take the match to the last.
Woodland had outdriven the Portrush star by more than 40 yards for most of the day his decision to take an iron off the tee backfired. Faced with 210 yards to the flag, he bunkered his approach and with McDowell only 12 feet away in two, he knifed his recovery into the bunker on the opposite side of the green and failed to make the green in four.
At the first extra hole it was McDowell who prevailed, hitting to six feet and holing the putt for a sensational victory that sets up a second round clash with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who beat Martin Kaymer 2&1.
“He looked unbeatable,” a relieved but delighted McDowell said at the finish. “He hit a six iron all over the flag at 16 and I thought, the Cadillacs are circling and I figured my manager had a plane ticket booked for me and I was going home.”
McIlroy was four up on Weekley with seven to play but bogeyed the 12th and had to wait until the 16th to close out a 3&2 victory.
“I probably got complacent the last few holes and gave him a couple but for the most part I played nicely,” McDOwell said. “I’m happy to get through to the next round. I feel like I have been really driving the ball well for the past three or four months and it has really helped my game. It’s the foundation of my game and if I can drive it long and straight it gives me a big advantage.”
If McDowell and McIlroy were happy, their Ryder Cup team mate Ian Poulter was both fuming and frustrated after his third opening day defeat in the last four years.
“I’m pissed off,” Poulter said after losing 2&1 to Rickie Fowler. “I gave him three holes and you just cannot do that. I’m just really disappointed because I didn’t put him under any pressure at all. I intend to get my backside out of here as quickly as I can. It’s annoying as I couldn’t have worked any harder than I have in the last five weeks.
“I have until Friday to enter Honda and although I did not intend to play, I’ll go home, hit some balls and see whether I need it. I feel it’s close, but its not there.”