Graeme McDowell is golf’s new Mastermind after a thrilling closing 62 in Hawaii answered a series of questions about his status in the game and left him poised to overtake Phil Mickelson as world No 4.
The US Open champion, 31, headed to Maui for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions determined to show the dwindling number of critics who questioned his rise to fifth in the world that he is no flash in the pan.
He also wanted to kill off all talk that his decision to ditch Callaway for Srixon after the greatest season of his life might turn out to be a massive mistake.
And he came up with the right answer to all those questions by firing 11 birdies in a sensational final round to miss out on a play-off by just one shot.
Now just 0.09 points behind Masters champion Mickelson in the world rankings, McDowell 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 were 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.”
McDowell’s failure to birdie the par-five 18th all week was the only question he couldn’t answer. He had a 10 foot birdie chance there on Sunday night to set the clubhouse target at 24-under par but pushed it wide.
That meant he missed out on a sudden-death play-off for the title which went to Jonathan Byrd after Robert Garrigus missed a short par putt at the second extra hole.
McDowell went into the final round six shots off the pace, telling a locker room attendant that he might need a 59 to have a chance.
And he very nearly pulled it off, picking up five birdies in his first six holes and two more at the ninth and 10th before reeling off another four in a row from the 13th to give himself a chance.
His 62 equalled his career best with respect to par - an 11-under 61 in the Irish Open at Baltray two years ago, where he was forced to withdraw injured the following day.
After picking up a consolation prize of $412,000 for third place (€320,000), McDowell beamed: “I’m just over the moon with the way I played this week.
“Eleven-under par ties my lowest-ever round as a professional golfer. From a pure scoring point of view, no, I’ve never had a better day than that.”
Delighted with his new sticks, he added: “I’ve just proven to the world I’m not naive enough to switch to inferior equipment.”
McDowell will return to action in Abu Dhabi next week for an event he believes will make the true end to his momentous 2010 season.
“In many ways, I am seeing this as putting an end to the end of last year,” he said before the final round in Hawaii. “I just feel like I am continuing on. Abu Dhabi will signal the end of something for me.
“I will then try to re-set and re-charge, put the feet up and rest, get into the gym and prepare myself for the season because Christmas was over in a flash and I was back on the horse again before I knew it. I am looking forward to some time off.”