Fate has a peculiar way of giving back. Having endured a horrible season, encapsulated by his failure to even make it to Race to Dubai in the desert, Graeme McDowell's decision to change tack and to add on the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, part of the PGA Tour's wraparound 2015/'16 season, to his schedule reaped huge dividends as he emerged from a three-way sudden-death play-off with his first tour win in almost 18 months.
The rewards for McDowell’s win are plentiful: aside from a cheque for over $1 million, the 36-year-old Northern Irish man earned an exemption of his PGA Tour card to the end of 2018 and also earned his invitation to the US Masters at Augusta next April. In one significant step, he moved from 192nd to seventh on the current FedEx Cup standings; and jumped from 85th up to 62nd in the latest world rankings. All good in other words.
McDowell – whose last win anywhere came in defending the 2014 French Open and who hadn't won on the PGA Tour since his Canadian Open success in 2013 – resumed his weather-hit final round to sign for a closing 66 for 266, 18-under-par, and then defeated Russell Knox and Jason Bohn with a magnificent birdie on the 18th, the first tie hole, to claim victory.
After a poor year which hadn’t featured a top-10 finish since his season opening tournament in the Dubai Desert Classic back in January, McDowell signalled his return to the winner’s enclosure with some style.
His five-iron approach from 205 yards nestled two and a half feet from the flag and he duly rolled in the birdie putt to claim the victory. McDowell plans to finish his season’s work at this week’s McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, where he played Walker Cup back in 2001.
For now, though, McDowell’s move into the off-season – and Christmas at home in Florida with his family – will be something to look forward to.
“It really gives me something to grab onto. You go through a year like this you think, ‘am I finished? Am i not good enough?’ You ask yourself all the questions.
“This is the game of golf, it is very difficult, and I have been dreaming of this day and I said to myself I was going to appreciate it when it came. So I am going to appreciate this. This year has been a grind.
“I stuck to my task the last three or four months, I kept grinding. This is a nice step back to where I want to be, I want to be back up there winning more Major championships and winning more tournaments.”
Having resumed the final round tied for the lead with Scotland’s Knox, winner of the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai the previous week, McDowell suffered a three-putt bogey on the 16th and then parred in for a 66. However, Knox bogeyed the 18th in regulation after pulling his drive on the closing hole into a fairway bunker and Bohn failed to birdie.
Of that bogey on the last, Knox – playing for a fifth straight week – said: “It was unfortunate to hit a bad drive, since ultimately it cost me the tournament. I’ve just got to hit a good drive, and I’ll definitely have a putt to win the tournament. I just wasn’t able to hit a good one. Hit a great second shot, but I’ve got to get the ball up and down there to win. Because I didn’t, I don’t deserve it.”
So the three headed out for sudden death and, first to strike his approach, McDowell delivered the piece de resistance.
In a perfect demonstration of a player-caddie discussion, his bagman Kenny Comboy talked his man out of hitting a six-iron and to go with a five-iron instead. "I hit as good a five-iron as I could hit. I wanted to smash a six-iron, he said 'this is a five-iron shot'," recalled McDowell, who executed it to perfection and effectively changed his entire season from a poor one into a good one.
McDowell only decided to add the Mayakoba Classic and this week’s McGladrey Classic onto his finishing schedule after failing to make it into the HSBC or into the top-60 in the DP World Tour Championship, the finale to the Race to Dubai.
“It’s been a rough year for all the right reasons. I’ve been enjoying life off the golf course with my beautiful family. Golf hasn’t been the priority it should be. But the last three or four months I got back to where I want to be,” said McDowell, who can move forward with a new pep in his step.