By Brian Keogh
Super-grinder Damien McGrane broke is tour duck with an amazing NINE-shot win at the rain-lashed Volvo China Open and confessed: The world is my oyster now.
Just 10 weeks after taking Tiger Woods’ scalp in Dubai, the Kells kingpin used his incredible short game to leave the field for dead in soggy Beijing and move into contention for a Ryder Cup spot.
Up to sixth on the Order of Merit thanks to a cheque for €232,121, McGrane was floating on air after completely his amazing 17-year journey from club pro to tournament winner thanks to a battling 73 on a day when the average score was 78.
Resplendent in a gold Chinese jacket awarded to the champion, McGrane beamed: “I am overjoyed. I can’t believe it.
“I knew I would have to do it the hard way and the long way. There were no short cuts for me in golf. But I have done it now.
“This week I gave myself an opportunity and I snatched it. I made sure nobody could get near it. I just took it.
“Every player that plays on the European Tour wants to win a tournament and now I have won, the world is my oyster.
"It is what I have grown up for since I was a little boy and hopefully I can go on and win more tournaments.
"My golf was super this week and my short game was incredible and I never had myself in any situation where I was under pressure.
"I made it as easy as possible for myself and I never thought my first win would come to me in the manner in which it did. To go out leading and to finish the job off is tremendously satisfying to me."
Leading by three overnight, the former Wexford club pro, 37, chipped and putted like a god as his rivals collapsed in a downpour of bogeys on the back nine.
Graeme McDowell shot 75 but still tied for fifth to move to sixth in the Ryder Cup race and top the qualifiers from the European Ryder Cup Points list.
Now McGrane has a chance to join him on Nick Faldo's team after averaging 24 putts and saving par 30 times out of 36 in a four-day short game display that was Tiger-esque in quality.
Peeling off his waterproofs at the 18th for the benefit of his sponsors at Knightsbrook Hotel and Golf Resort, he narrowly failed to match the best round of the day when he missed from five feet at the 18th for a level par 72.
But he could afford to tap in one-handed for a 73 that left him nine shots clear of Simon Griffiths, Oliver Wilson and Michael Lorenzo Vera on 10-under par to win by a bigger margin of victory than Woods managed in February's Buick Invitational.
While he holed five par putts in the 15-foot range to keep his rivals firmly at bay, it was his chip-in birdie from heavy rough between two bunkers at the par-five ninth - his fourth chip-in of the week - that proved to be the killer blow.
McGrane said: “It was possibly the defining moment for me. The ball rolled straight down the green, hit the flag and went into the hole. To win golf tournaments you need a defining moment and possibly that was mine.”
Conditions were so tough that Wilson and French rookie Lorenzo-Vera shot 79 but still finished second alongside Simon Griffiths, who shot 74.
Playing partner Wilson said: “I can’t tell you how good Damien’s performance is. His short game was fantastic. It was war out there on the golf course - and he won.”
Lorenzo-Vera added: “Damien was totally untouchable today. We had to shoot four under to win. He is Irish, what more can I say. He knows how to play and he is a great fighter. He deserves it.”
McGrane beat Woods by a shot in the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic and got a front row seat as the world No 1 romped to victory the following day.
But the Kells man is now just €201,000 behind 10th ranked Martin Kaymer at 16th the Ryder Cup standings and just a win away from a dream reunion with Woods at Vahalla.
McGrane said: “Playing with Tiger was a unique experience for me and contending for golf tournaments is what I am meant to do for my living.
“It is definitely a build up and now that I have won one golf tournament, God knows what I can do now in the future.”
Open champion Padraig Harrington is a shoe-in to make the Nick Faldo’s side for the trip to Kentucky in September.
Significantly, the Dubliner was one of the first Irish players to send boyhood rival McGrane a congratulatory text message yesterday.