Graeme McDowell headed to Hawaii last week determined to prove that his rise to world No 5 was no flash in the pan.
The result? Third place in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions following a course record-equalling, 11-under par 62 in the final round that sees him threaten to overtake Phil Mickelson at world No 4.
Before the first event of the PGA Tour season at the Kapalua Resort on Maui, McDowell was 0.435 world ranking points behind the Masters champion. Now the gap is just 0.091, which is a huge boost for the reigning US Open champion following his much-question club change from Callaway to Srixon in the New Year.
“How we liking them Srixon’s now??? Fun day at the office. Thanks for the support guys,” McDowell told his Twitter followers after his 11-birdie closing round.
The Ulsterman had a 10-foot birdie chance at the 18th to set the clubhouse target at 24-under par. But he hit it through the break and finished a shot outside a play-off in which Jonathan Byrd beat Robert Garrigus with a par four at the second extra hole, the first.
McDowell could not birdie the 18th all week but he was delighted to come out and prove that he has not made a mistake in changing equipment companies after the most successful season of his career.
He said: “It’s just great to go low. It’s great to come out and answer all of the questions this week. I realized it was going to be a difficult way to start the season with new equipment in the bag coming off the back of last year, there was always going to be questions.
“And it’s great to come here and perform the way I have and show people that all I’ve done is move from one great golf company to another great golf company. I believe Srixon have the equipment to help me continue to win golf tournaments.”
Ian Poulter’s share of sixth place saw him return to the world’s top 10 at tenth with Rory McIlroy falling two places to 12th as he heads to Dubai today to warm up for the start of his season in next week’s Abu Dhabi Championship.
Padraig Harrington, who dropped one place to 26th in the world, will also begin his 2011 campaign in Abu Dhabi where McDowell will also tee it up before taking a month off to recharge his batteries.
Byrd’s victory helped him jump 63 places in the world rankings from 121st to 58th with Garrigus up from 149th to 81st. Carl Pettersson’s share of fourth in Hawaii set him from 105th to 86th with Chris Wood up from 106th to 87th following his play-off defeat to Louis Oosthuizen in the Africa Open.
With Byrd, Garrigus, Pettersson and Wood moving into the world’s top 100, Darren Clarke slipped from 100th to 108th with Peter Lawrie (110th), Gareth Maybin (119th), Damien McGrane (121st), Shane Lowry (162d) the only other Irish players inside the world’s top 300.