Win and PGA Tour exemption has Graeme McDowell back on track

The 2010 US Open winner says he can focus now and stop looking for sponsor’s invites

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after winning the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland poses with the trophy after winning the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

All through the years of his career, one which reached heights – like winning the US Open, holing winning putts in the Ryder Cup – but also plunged the depths, Graeme McDowell would, time and time again, talk of taking stock and of “recalibrating.”

It looks like the recalibration has worked.

Almost nine years on from lifting that Major trophy at Pebble Beach for a career-high, the 39-year-old Northern Irishman’s success in the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic brought with it a different kind of career-changing significance. It has reaffirmed to McDowell that all the hard work behind the scenes has paid off, and that he still had that dogged winner’s mentality. He still knows how to win.

McDowell produced the fireworks in rounds two and three – shooting back-to-back 64s – but showcased his fortitude when it mattered in the final round, where a closing 69 for a 19-under-par total of 270 gave him a one stroke winning margin over American Chris Stoud and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes.

And, with the win, all has changed. McDowell missed all of January with a wrist injury and, with limited PGA Tour status after failing to retain his full tour card last season, has struggled to impact. Until now. The win has propelled G-Mac up the FedEx Cup standings (from 119th to 42nd) and up in the world rankings (from 257th to 133rd). Critically, although not earning him a place in the Masters field as it is considered a second-tier event on the PGA Tour, McDowell now has full tour status going forward with a two year exemption.

McDowell plays his approach in to the 18th on Sunday. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
McDowell plays his approach in to the 18th on Sunday. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

“When you’re grinding, when you’re asking for invites like I’ve been doing this year, I felt like I had this monkey on my back that I couldn’t shake off,” said McDowell.

In winning the tournament, McDowell proved that so-called short hitters can still get the job done. He averaged 286 yards off the tee but hit 52 of 72 greens in regulation and ranked first in putting, with his Odyssey White Hot 7 – a putter he used in winning the US Open in 2010 and which he calls “old faithful” – proving especially effective.

“This one’s been coming,” insisted McDowell. “I feel like I’ve been playing well for the last 12 months. Haven’t been turning my good weeks into big weeks and that’s been the big key and that’s what you have to do on the PGA Tour, that’s what you have to do to get yourself up in the FedExCup points race. You have to make your good weeks into big ones and this win is going to go a long way to get me back to where I want to be in the game. That’s the mission at the minute, get myself back in the top-100, top-50 in the world competing on a week to week against the best players in the world.”

He added: “Like I say, (I got) big monkey off my back. Really getting myself a schedule mapped out for the next couple years now where I can just settle down and start playing some golf, start playing the golf that I know I can play because I haven’t let myself do that lately. I (had) put too much pressure on myself.”

Going forward, McDowell can play without such pressure of wondering where and when he will play. The win – his first since 2015 – changes his playing privileges, although the bid to ensure he is in the field for the 148th Open at Royal Portrush in July is a box that he has yet to tick.

“It will be a springboard win as well. It’s something I need to now use to kick on. I’ve never been to Atlanta, to the Tour Championship, the FedExCup playoffs. That’s the big goal. That has to be the goal. Obviously we’ve got The Open Championship at Portrush, which is obviously on my radar. This will free me up a lot to be able to play the schedule between now and July that I want to play that’s going to help me achieve my goals.”

McDowell is on the road again for this week’s Valero Texas Open, where Pádraig Harrington and Séamus Power are also in the field, a tournament which offers the final place in the field for next week’s US Masters.

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