Ryder Cup won't be McDowell's crowning moment

Graeme McDowell became an instant hero for millions of European fans when he clinched the Ryder Cup with that stomach-churning victory over Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor.

His teams mates hailed his incredible cool under pressure coming down the stretch. But that’s not what impressed Padraig Harrington the most.

As the European team trooped out of the media centre following the closing ceremony, McDowell was still trying to come to terms with what he had just achieved.

But Harrington - a man under immense pressure to justify his wildcard - knew the true magnitude of McDowell’s feat better than anyone.

“Bob Torrance always says that the difference between a good player and a great player is that a good player will play great when the feeling is upon him, but a great player can play good when he needs to,” Harrington said with a glance over his shoulder at the man of the moment.

“It’s much harder to play well at the Ryder Cup. Graeme alluded to it himself when he said he wasn’t comfortable with his game coming down that back nine. On the back nine at the US Open he was on top of the world with his game.

“When he says he didn’t feel as much pressure in the US Open that’s because he’d great confidence in his game. He had to hit the same shots without that confidence of the previous 63 holes in the tournament.

“That’s when you really need true grit, when you’re not 100 per cent and have to hit the shots. 

“He hit a fantastic shot into 16 and a great shot into 17 because both of those pins, you miss it left, except for Zach Johnson, you’re picking it up and putting it back in your pocket. There was a lot of pressure there and, fair play to him, he really did deliver.”

McDowell has always had that ability to turn it on under the kosh, which is why Colin Montgomerie and his assistants felt comfortable putting him in the crucial anchorman role on Monday.

One of the Portrush man’s earliest captains was former Ireland international Eddie Dunne, who had McDowell at his orders during his amateur days with the Irish team.

“If you were in the marines on a 12-man patrol, Graeme is the guy you’d want getting your back,” Dunne said. “That’s the kid of guy he is.”

The careers of Eamonn Darcy, Philip Walton, Christy O’Connor Jnr and Paul McGinley were defined by their Ryder Cup winning exploits.

But McDowell’s performance at Celtic Manor, especially in the light of his US Open victory at Pebble Beach, is likely to be just one of many career highlights.

Despite that, it was one of the great sporting moments of the year and Harrington believes that McDowell will deservedly earn a slew of awards for the birdie at the tough 16th that the stage of the incredible drama that unfolded on the par-three 17th.

“That putt on the 16th might have been Shot of the Year,” Harrington said. “He’ll win Sports Star of the Year in two countries now.”

Judging by McDowell’s growing confidence, the rewards and awards are likely to come thick and fast.