Graeme McDowell holds on to take win in Dominican Republic
2010 US Open winner ended drought while Shane Lowry confirmed place at the Masters
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the eighth tee during the final round of the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
You know that old adage about form being temporary and class being permanent? Well, Graeme McDowell proved it. After struggling with his form in recent seasons, the 39-year-old Northern Irishman rekindled much of that old magic of his to scoop a $550,000 payday at the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic and, more importantly than the financial benefits, regained his full PGA Tour exempt status.
McDowell fired a closing round 69 for a total of 19-under-par 270 to claim a one stroke winning margin over American Chris Stroud and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes. The victory ended a three-and-a-half year drought on tour for McDowell, whose last win had come in the Mayakoba Classic in 2015.
The win catapulted McDowell from 119th in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings from 119th to 38th and moved him from 257th in the world rankings into the top-150.
McDowell got off to a flying start with four birdies in his opening seven holes – on the first, second, fourth and seventh – but dropped a shot on the ninth to turn in 33. Then, the birdies dried up as he had seven successive pars before showing his customary grit when it mattered.
The Par 3 17th hole proved critical. McDowell’s tee shot on the 214-yard hole finished five feet from the flag, while Stroud missed the green. McDowell sank the birdie putt, Stroud failed to get up and down. The two shot swing was pivotal, and McDowell sealed the deal despite bogeying the 18th. Stroud, too, dropped a shot there after finding the rough off the tee.
McDowell’s putting had been a key factor in getting him into the mix, with back-to-back 64s in the second and third round propelling him into the outright lead going into the fourth round.
Of that upturn in his putting, which led to 15 straight single putts in his third round on Saturday, McDowell explained:
“I’ve been working on some routine stuff the last couple of weeks. Something small has kind of clicked, something I used to do really well years ago. I became not so good at it and I’ve tried, I’ve been practicing. It’s just a breathing thing and it really clicked last week a little bit and it’s been working really well on the greens again this week. It’s been helping me relax and it’s helping me just stand there and hit nice putts.
“Just before I take the putter head away, just a little bit of out-breath to relax. It is something I used to do very well way back when and it’s amazing how you instinctively get good at things and then you stop being good at things as well. That’s cleaned my routines well up on the greens.”
Paul Dunne shot a closing round 71 for a total of 12-under-par 276, which left him in tied-12th, while Séamus Power’s 70 for 282 moved him up nine spots from his starting position to finish in tied-44th.
Rory McIlroy’s interest in the WGC-Dell Matchplay was ended by Tiger Woods at the last-16 stage, which meant an early departure from Austin. The Northern Irishman’s next appearance will be at the upcoming US Masters, where he will seek to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy’s defeat left him in no mood for post-round scrutiny from the media, although – after refusing to talk about the match – he later posted on social media his disappointment.
“I want to apologize to the media for not giving them any of my time after the match this morning. Although I was disappointed with how the match ended, I showed real patience and persistence to claw a couple holes back on the back nine, then squandered a great opportunity to get back to all skquare on 16 . . . . definitely one I let get away but I’ll learn and move on,” wrote McIlroy, who moved up one spot to number three in the latest world rankings.
Shane Lowry’s failure to get out of the group stages didn’t ultimately costly in terms of punching his ticket to the Masters. The Offalyman remained in the top-50 of the world rankings, with the Monday cut-off point for qualification to Augusta.
Only an unlikely combination of results over the weekend – which included Kevin Na finishing third in Austin and Sungjae Im winning in the Dominican Republic – would have hindered Lowry’s ambitions of a return to the Masters.