"You go through a year like this you think, ‘am I finished? Am I not good enough?’ You ask yourself all the questions" - McDowell finds the answer in Mexico

"You go through a year like this you think, ‘am I finished? Am I not good enough?’ You ask yourself all the questions" - McDowell finds the answer in Mexico

Graeme McDowell — not to mention is entourage and his entire family — would have forgiven him had he broken into a Mexican hat dance following the playoff winning five iron to two and a half feet that won him the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.

Never mind the $1m cheque, the Masters invitation and the tweet of congratulations from Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke. As he posed with the trophy, sombrero on head, McDowell beamed the smile that has been sadly missing from his game for more than a year and a half.

It was the smile of a man who got confirmation down the stretch that the stuff he’s been working on with coaches Clive Tucker and Pete Cowen — things that Greg Norman reminded him of in a friendly text message — are the right things.

But it was also the smile of relief from a man who created such a happy place for himself in his life that he lost the hunger made him the street fighter and, as a result, a major-winning star in the first place.

Without that edge, McDowell got rusty and lost his mojo and his confidence. He called it “complacency”, the complacency that comes with being a Top 50 or Top 25 player with a set schedule and an easy life.

Goals that were once crystal clear suddenly became a little fuzzy and it took almost losing the goose that lays the golden eggs to regain some of that famous McDowell focus again.

“It really gives me something to grab onto,” said the 36-year old, who moved up from 85th to 62nd in the world thanks to his third PGA Tour win. "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.”

McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, knows this could be one of the key wins in his career.

“This is special,” he said. ““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.”

His win came after he was force to take a hard look at himself and the way he was going about his business.

"Get tight, get tight."

Before he even failed to qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, he opted to cut his European Tour season short and play the Mayakoba event and next week’s McGladery Classic to put 2015 behind him and get an early start on the new PGA TOUR season.

“My focus had to go back to basics,” McDowell explained. "I had to start thinking like a guy whose job is on the line. Rather than thinking like a Top 50 or Top 25 in the world player, the way I have done the last four years. There is a certain amount of complacency that comes with being a Top 25 player. 

"You know your schedule, I haven’t being in this position in a long time where you are going into a year not knowing what to expect. So I had to strip everything back to basics and that’s why I ended up being here. That’s no disrespect to the European Tour or the Ryder Cup or anything I want to achieve in this game. It’s a simple, raw assessment of anything I want to achieve right now and that’s keeping my PGA Tour status. So this came quicker than I expected it.”

Apart from the Masters, McDowell will qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play if he remains inside the world’s top 64 into March. Doral required a victory against a stronger field.

“This ticks a few more boxes that I thought it would — the exemptions, the Masters, maybe a couple of WGCs, I am not sure. This is greatly needed with a Ryder Cup year coming up, an Olympics year, major championships I want to be part of and compete in. This is the real shot in the arm that I needed.”

Tied for the lead with five holes of the final round to complete from 8am on Monday, McDowell parred the 14th and 15ht, bogeyed the 16th with a sloppy three-putt  but then parred home for a five under 66 that set the target at 18 under par.

It appeared that Scotland’s Russell Knox would edge him out by parring the last for what would have been back to back wins. But the WGC-HSBC champion bogeyed the last and ended up on 18 under par alongside McDowell and Jason Bohn

In the playoff it was McDowell who stepped up on the par-four 18th, hitting a 205-yard five iron that burned the edge of the hole before finishing just over two feet away for what turned out to be a tournament winning birdie.

What really helped him win wasn't the five iron or the putt but the wake up call he got with the realisation that he could have ended without a card at the end of next year if he didn't make some changes.

"Being here this week was a result of changing my strategy, changing my focus,” McDowell told reporters after his win. “No disrespect to the European Tour, I had to take my focus off of that for the time being because my priority — I basically lost my card in the States this year, though thankfully I had another year exemption.

“But I couldn’t be in this position this time next year, regardless of whether i am of where I was in the Ryder Cup or regardless of where I was in the Race to Dubai. 

“I am bringing my family up in America. And when it all boils down to it, this is where I want to be employed. Of course, I will remain loyal to the Euroepan Tour always, I want to play Ryder Cups. But there is no doubt that that is priority No 2 for me. Priority No 1 is having a job and having the best paying job available.”

He added; “When I get my focus right, I am a very good player. When I don’t get my focus right, I struggle. This was definitley a result of having my mind in the right place.”

As for the technical gremlins that have held McDowell back, he admitted that the perfect five-iiron he hit at the first playoff hole was a result of hard work on correcting a flaw that Greg Norman had also spotted on TV.

(An example of McDowell's short backswing during practice in the Turkish Airlines Open)

McDowell explained:

“Funny anecdote for you. I got a text message/lesson from Greg Norman on Saturday night. He said he had watched some of the coverage and thought I looked a little short and a little quick. He said to complete my backswing and be a little more relaxed at address. So we had a text back and forward and he gave me a couple of tips. So I really worked hard yesterday and this morning on completing my backswing. And that’s sone thing I have been working on with my coaches as well. So he reminded me of some stuff and he’s one of my big heroes on and off the golf course and it was nice to get some positive reinforcement from the Shark.”

It wasn’t the only tip McDowell got in Mexico. His caddie, Kenny Comboy, gave him a putting tip that resulted in a change in his set up. 

Having struggled with his driver and putter to find himself well down the rankings this year, it was his putter than saved him this week.

“It’s the best putting week I have had all year,” he said, recalling how he holed an eight footer for par on the 72nd hole having blown a 50 footer past the hole in response to leaving a putt short and three putting the 16th. “I hit a great putt there.” 

He also had help from Knox – playing for a fifth straight week — who bogeyed the last when he needed a par to win and 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.”

As for McDowell's decision to hit five-iron rather than six in the playoff, he explained that it was all down to his caddie, Comboy, who talked him out of it.

“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

“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

“I’ve been dreaming of this day and I said to myself that I was going to appreciate it when it came. So I’m gonna appreciate this one, let me tell you, because this year has been a grind. My whole team, caddie, coaches, managers, my wife, you know. It’s been a tough year.”

Viva G-Mac, as they say down Mexico way.