Graeme McDowell dented Tiger Woods’ battered reputation a little more with his play-off win over golf’s fallen idol in the Chevron World Challenge.
But the Portrush star still ensured himself a place on the 14-time major winner’s Christmas card list when he insisted that it isn’t the end of an aura for the former world No 1. Only time will tell if he was being kind or prescient.
Woods had never before failed to win a professional tournament when leading by three shots or more entering the final round.
But while McDowell came from four back to tie thanks to a dramatic 20 footer at the last and then claimed the title in sudden death by draining an almost identical 20 footer for another birdie, he reckons it won’t be long before Woods regains his mojo and the air of invincibility that made him golf’s ultimate predator.
Still pinching himself after a dream year that brought him his first major win at the US Open and a jump to a career high seventh in the world yesterday, McDowell said: “I’m definitely a guy who says that golf needs Tiger Woods and we need him back winning tournaments.
“I think he can play his way back into having that mystique again. There’s no doubt. He’s just got to do the talking with his golf clubs now
“He used to appear invincible. Of course he’s made himself appear more human in the last 12 months. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we all make mistakes and we all hit bad golf shots.
“But there’s something a bit special about his golf game, and I fully expect that mystique to return as the golf clubs start doing the talking again.”
McDowell is now the red-hot favourite to win the European Tour Player of the Year title and the BBC Sports Personality of the year gong, not that he will lose much sleep if he fails to win either award.
His win at the Chevron World Challenge was his fourth individual victory of the season following triumphs at Celtic Manor, Pebble Beach and Valderrama.
He was also Europe’s solid gold hero in the Ryder Cup, where he secured the winning point with a gutsy victory over Hunter Mahan in the anchor singles.
Few expected McDowell to come from behind and deny Woods the victory he needed in Los Angeles to avoid the first winless season of his professional career.
Tiger’s caddie Steve Williams certainly didn’t appear to think so as he cheekily took off his caddie’s bib as McDowell sized up the 20 foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
Woods looked oods to win after a stellar approach to just three feet at Sherwood Country Club’s finishing hole.
Did McDowell see Williams? Who knows.
[STOP PRESS - Yes he did:
“I certainly remember looking up on the 18th green and noticing that he had the bib off. That’s a Stevie move and kind of his thing and whatever. It felt pretty good to make that putt and I remember looking up at him and the look on his face kind of said ‘there’s a little bit more golf left in this tournament.’
“Stevie is such an experienced caddie and he’s been out there many times and won championships. I’m sure he was frustrated as well that Tiger was not able to get across the line at the Chevron. You have got to expect guys to hole and I guess Stevie wasn’t expecting that one.”].
One thing is certain - he has answered all the tough questions asked of him this year bar being asked to make up a million euro deficit on Martin Kaymer over the last six weeks of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai campaign.
As Williams shamelessly showed off his sponsor’s logo for the cameras once more, McDowell showed why he is a highly paid sportsman for something other than carrying a golf bag and reading double breaking putts.
His 2010 season surpassed his wildest dreams, even if he did always believe that he was capable of doing something big in the game.
Proving that brains are as valuable to a golfer as hard work, he said: “I’ve had an up and down career. Plenty of ups and plenty of downs. I’ve always figured myself as a pretty fast learner.
“I’ve learned a lot from my down times, from my hard years. I’ve worked very hard the last three or four years and made some big decisions in my life, caddies and management and equipment companies.
“I feel like I earned my stripes a little bit, and I felt like a year like this one has been coming. Obviously the script this year has been pretty amazing. I didn’t quite foresee it being this amazing. But I really I felt like I had some big golf in me this year, and it’s been amazing to be able to do it.”
A nervous Woods shot a 73 to McDowell’s 69 and confessed on Twitter: “Really hate losing, Graeme did what he needed to do to win and I didn’t.”
Reflecting on his two Tiger-killing birdies on the 18th, McDowell said: “They’re the kind of putts that you make them and you can’t really believe it afterwards.
“They were the stuff of dreams and 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It’s been that kind of year. Not quite sure why.”
If McDowell was too modest to say why, we’ll do it for him.
Hard work, self-belief, talent and sheer, blood-minded determination. That’s why.