McDowell's win caps a record year for Ireland's tour players
Graeme McDowell’s wheelbarrow may have been full of greenbacks as he left the happy hunting ground that for him is Sherwood Country Club.
But his win – a second in three years at the venue for the end-of-season shindig – was more than just the icing on the cake for a quite remarkable year for Ireland’s tour players.
It constituted an unprecedented ninth win by five different players – North and South – in a season that, for most of them, has finally come to a close.
Although Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane are in South Africa for this week’s Nelson Mandela championship hoping to get a headstart in the new 2013 PGA European Tour season, for G-Mac and the rest the coming weeks provide time for clubs to be stacked away (at least competitively).
In the case of world number one Rory McIlroy, it will provide the chance to get to grips with his new Nike irons, woods and drivers.
McDowell’s victory – even if it came in an unofficial tournament, with no status on the PGA Tour – was due reward for a season in which he knocked on the door on a number of occasions, most specifically at the US Open in San Francisco in June where he was edged out by Webb Simpson.
It provided a bookend to a year where McIlroy’s five worldwide wins, including a second Major in the USPGA, was augmented by tournament wins in one guise or another by Michael Hoey, Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and, lastly but no least, by McDowell.
The most immediate benefit for McDowell following his World Challenge win was to jump 10 places in the latest official world rankings, up to 14th, sandwiched between Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson. The greater benefit, though, is likely to going forward.
“This year has been frustrating born out of some great golf,” said McDowell.
Indeed, McDowell contended to the death in the US Open (eventually finishing runner-up) and was again in contention in the British Open (where he finished fifth) and admitted he probably did too much over the summer with the result he was drained by the time the Ryder Cup came about in September.
“I think it’s fair to say I was not at my best at the Ryder Cup. I was burned out. I was tired. I was running on fumes,” said McDowell, who took three weeks off afterwards to recharge the batteries. Now, it’s a case of recharging them again.
“This 10 weeks is huge for me, just from resetting my goals and getting ready for a big year (in 2013). This will give me some nice momentum going into the off-season, a springboard . . . I will draw on the confidence this (win) has given me.”
If McDowell’s win came with effectively the last throw of the dice for the year, the Ulsterman afterwards affirmed that McIlroy’s exploits had provided a motivational force of its own.
“I talked a couple of years ago of Rory being my little radar blocker . . . I won the US Open (in 2010) doing that. I kind of got thrust back into the limelight for a year and a half after that.
“But what he’s doing, it’s tough not to be inspired. I’m not sure I’ve got that type of game inside me that he’s playing right now because he’s on a different stratosphere from everyone else. But certainly he inspires me to see how good someone can be and how focused someone can be.
“I guess in my career I’ve rubbed shoulders with players better than me, players I feel like I can learn things from and people that can motivate me.
“I’m not sure what small part I’ve had in his career, (in) motivating and mentoring him. It’s very small. But I’m sure it’s there, it’s tangible in some shape or form. But he certainly motivates me for sure. I’d love to see him down the stretch some Sunday afternoon.”
McDowell added: “When you see a guy like Rory McIlroy doing what he’s doing right now, it’s tough not to have that little bit of envy. I know I’ll never have a game like that . . . I’ve just got to beat the golf course with other things. Wedge play. Putting. And short game.
“There’s no doubt, I’ve been envious of what he’s achieved the last four or five months. I’m sure every player on the planet is. But it has motivated me, showed me what’s possible.”
So, McDowell, having ended a two-year win drought, stepped out of the shadows at an appropriate time. McIlroy may have enjoyed the lion’s share of the limelight for much of 2012, but McDowell’s win – along with those in different guises registered by Hoey, Lowry and Harrington – would indicate the strength of Irish golfers, and their capacity to win, has never been stronger. And, it would seem, McIlroy’s deeds are providing motivation rather than real envy.