Graeme McDowell produced three late moments of brilliance to hold off Keegan Bradley and end a two-year victory drought by capturing the $1.2m winner’s cheque in Tiger Woods’ hosted World Challenge at a rain-lashed Sherwood Country Club in California.
The Portrush star, two ahead with three to play, made a clutch 12 footer for birdie at the par-five 16th before producing an equisite chip from a horrible lie behind the 17th green to save par and a glorious closing birdie for a final round 68 and a three shot win on 17 under par.
Looking dead and buried after overshooting the penultimate hole, the world No 24 could only afford to chip his ball three feet forward onto a downslope if he wanted to get it close. And he excuted it perfectly, chopping it delicately into the first cut and then looking on as it rolled the remaining 15 feet to the lip of the hole for a priceless par-three.
At the dangerous 18th, he hit a three wood off the tee for safety and a stellar six-iron to four feet, setting up a gilt-edged birdie chance which he duly took after Bradley had two putted for a final round 69.
“Just over the moon to kind of get the job done,” McDowell said after a surviving tough weather conditions and Bradley’s late rally. “It’s been too long. It’s been a hell of a two years since I sat here as a winner. And we all put winning kind of up on a pedestal of the ultimate goal.
“We like to say that it’s all about the processes and going through the motions and trying to get better. But let’s be honest, we all measure ourselves by the wins. I can say that now.
For two years I’ve been saying things like processes and trying to get better and be patient and hopefully the wins will come.
“I guess I got fed up with telling everybody that I’m playing well, playing well. I guess I’m relieved to get across the line and take some nice confidence into this little off period I’ve got coming up.”
McDowell suddenly found himself three clear with nine to play when Bradley bogeyed the short eighth and then three-putted the ninth.
It was matchplay from that point forward and McDowell is an expert in that area when he is on his game.
First he matched Bradley’s birdie at the 10th, bravely holing from six feet after the former US PGA champion had knocked in a 15 footer for birdie
And he was soon four clear, picking up a shot with a perfect lay up and excellent 18 foot birdie putt at the par-five 11th.
The 13th changed the complexion of the “match” coming down the stretch when McDowell missed the fairway and then three-putted for a bogey six - his first dropped shot in 41 holes - as Bradley came up eight feet short with an eagle try but calmly rolled in his putt with his trusty belly putter to reduce the gap from four to just two strokes with five to play.
The Bostonian had been accused of cheating by a fan during Saturday’s third round on foot of the recent proposed change in the rules which would outlaw anchored strokes by 1 January 2016.
The USGA went as far as to issue a statement backing Bradley:
“This is a deplorable incident, and there is no place in our game for this kind of behavior. As we noted when announcing proposed Rule 14-1b, it has been and remains entirely within the Rules of Golf for players to anchor the club while making a stroke. There should not be a shred of criticism of such players or any qualification or doubt about their achievements, and we think that it is inappropriate even to suggest anything to the contrary. Rule changes address the future and not the past. Up until now and until such time as a Rule change were to be implemented, golfers using an anchored stroke will have been playing by the Rules of Golf.
“We are sorry that Keegan had to experience this unfounded criticism from an obviously uneducated spectator. Instead, Keegan and other PGA Tour professionals should be commended for their maturity and grace in managing through a proposed change to the Rules of Golf. While we understand that the proposed Rules change would cause some short-term angst, we believe the new Rule would serve the long-term best interest of the game.”
The 14th and 15th were “halved” in par, leaving McDowell two ahead on 15 under with three to play.
But it was at the 16th where he took a stranglehold on the title with a trademark birdie four - good course management, strong wedge play and deadly putting.
Taking a rescue off the tee, McDowell laid up and then hit a 120 yard wedge to 12 feet with Bradley just short and right of the green.
The American almost holed his chip but McDowell rolled home the putt to remain two shots ahead and closed out a long-awaited victory.
Bo Van Pelt finished third on 10 under after a closing 70 with out-of-sorts host Woods (71) tied for fourth on nine under with Jim Furyk (70) and Rickie Fowler (69). Scores