Graeme McDowell’s “Jekyll and Hyde” season continued in remarkable fashion when he claimed his third title of the year at the Open de France to soar to sixth in the world.
With five missed cuts and two wins from his last seven starts, it appeared that it could only go one of two ways for the 33-year old Portrush man at Le Golf National’s Albatros Course.
In this case, it was another victory and a highly impressive one at that as he shook off the stubborn resistence of Richard Sterne over the back nine, carding a four under 67 to win by four strokes on nine under par.
McDowell has now won 12 times as a professional with nine of those wins counting on the European Tour, which moves him ahead of eight-time winner Des Smyth in the pantheon of Irish greats.
“It’s very special after the last couple of months,” McDowell admitted. “It’s been a bit of a battle. It’s been a funny year. My game has not felt far away most weeks but I have missed a lot more cuts than normal and missing cuts hurts.
“It certainly motivated me a lot the last few weeks. The US Open was a tough one to take and missing the cut in Ireland last week. But it made me more hungry to want to be in positions like I was this afternoon.
“To win a title as prestigious as the French Open over a course that I think is the best we play on The European Tour, is very special and something I will remember for a long time.”
It was also a huge week for three Gareth Maybin (tied eighth), Gareth Shaw (tied 13th), Damien McGrane (tied 18th) and Alan Dunbar (tied 34th) as they bid to either retain their tour cards or establish a foothold on the European Tour.
But the big plaudits go to McDowell whose third win in his last eight starts moved him up to second in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and gave him a confidence boost ahead of The Open at Muirfield in less than a fortnight
The margin of victory is flattering given that Sterne was only one behind until he bogeyed the 16th and then dropped another shot at the 17th as McDowell took advantage of a friendly bounce to convert a birdie chance from 10 feet and go to the terrifying, water-strewn 18th with a four stroke lead.
“This is such a difficult course here, we may have one of the greatest Ryder Cup venues in European golf history in 2018,” added McDowell, who hopes to play as a 39-year old. “Anyone watching this week will get a sense for the match play drama this course is going to provide.
“I was thinking of the 18th hole all day and it was nice to have that cushion coming in. I got a little lucky coming in. I didn’t hit my best putt on 15 or 16 and they went in. I struggled on the greens all week and didn’t make many putts, but only making four bogeys all week was the key.”
Sterne eventually did well to par the 18th for a final round of 71 to make sure of outright second, with 2007 winner Graeme Storm and Spain’s Eduardo de la Riva a shot behind.
McDowell missed the cut in last week’s Irish Open but reaped the rewards of staying on at Carton House over the weekend to work on his game, the first prize €500,000 leaving him less than €30,000 behind Justin Rose at the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
It should also lift the former US Open champion from ninth to sixth when the world rankings are updated on Monday, with the Open Championship at Muirfield just around the corner.
The 33-year-old began the day tied with Sterne and made the perfect start with a birdie from 15ft at the opening hole, but Sterne responded with a two-putt birdie on the par-five third, where McDowell was lucky not to find a water hazard with his drive.
Both players then birdied the fifth before a poor drive cost McDowell a bogey on the seventh, while the par-five ninth produced matching birdies for the final group from a greenside bunker.
McDowell was quick to get back on level terms at the start of the back nine, holing from nine feet for a birdie on the 10th and then missing from a similar distance on the next.
Sterne dropped his first shot of the day on the 12th after driving into heavy rough and coming up short of the green with his approach, and he looked certain to also bogey the 13th as well.
The South African committed the cardinal sin of taking an iron for safety only to push his tee shot into a water hazard, but after taking a penalty drop he hit his third shot to 20ft and holed for an unlikely par.
Luck certainly appeared to be on McDowell’s side as he pulled his tee shot on the 16th but saw the ball take a fortunate bounce away from the rough and kick 90 degrees right. That left him with a relatively simple up and down, but he needed more fortune after pulling his par putt and the grin after it somehow found the left edge of the hole told its own story.
Sterne had called for a “G-Mac bounce” after also pulling his tee shot but was not so fortunate and a bogey four gave McDowell a two-shot lead with two to play, the Northern Irishman then making certain of victory with a superb birdie on the 17th.
“I can hardly believe it really,” McDowell said after hitting to solid shots to the back of the 18th before two putting from 50 feet - his second putt a tricky six footer across the slope.
“Merion doesn’t seem all that long ago. That was motivation for me. Missing the cut at the Irish Open was motivation for me. I have always believed that I could do something on this golf course and I executed my game plan incredibly well.”
McDowell made just four bogeys all week - one each day - as he compiled rounds of 69, 69, 70 and 67 - hitting 71% of the fairways (rank 13th) and 79.1% of the greens (rank 1st).
The two putts that snuck in the side door over the closing holes were deserved considering how many times he had shaved the hole over the first three days and eventually finished 46th for putts per green in regulation and 43rd for putts per round.
“I’ve hit a lot of good putts this week that haven’t gone in. 15 and 16 were key. I was up out both of those putts. I thought I had missed the one on 15 right and the one on 16 left. The golfing gods were looking down on me and figured it was my day. I will take that and run.
“Richard Sterne played magnificently today and kept me honest. I was glad to have that cushion going down the last.”
As for the rest of the Irish, Maybin closed with a fine 68 to finish tied for eighth on one under par, earning €61,800 ato move up to 109th in the Race to Dubai - just inside the top 110 who keep their cards.
As for Shaw, the Galgorm Castle touring pro only got into the event thanks to his share of fifth in the Irish Open.
He was four under for the day with four holes to play and on course for another top 10 finish and an automatic start in next week’s Scottish Open.
But while a double bogey six at the 15th left a sour taste, his closing 69 gave him a share of 13th on two under and a cheque for €44,220.
That brought his earnings for the last fortnight to €106,140 and with a few more invitations he has an great chance of winnign his card after moving up to 117th in the Race to Dubai standings.
Damien McGrane’s 69 saw him snatch a share of 18th (one over) worth €35,100 and a move to 100th in the Race to Dubai while rookie Alan Dunbar’s 71 for 34th (four over) was worth €22,200 and a leap to 182nd in the money list.
Michael Hoey, who is exempt until the end of next season, dropped eight shots in the last six holes for a 79 to finish tied 63rd on 12 over
Open de France 2013 - Final
275 G McDowell (Nir) 69 69 70 67,
279 R Sterne (RSA) 68 69 71 71,
280 G Storm (Eng) 70 68 73 69, E De La Riva (Esp) 72 67 72 69,
281 S Dyson (Eng) 70 68 72 71,
282 J Donaldson (Wal) 70 70 71 71, R Green (Aus) 69 70 70 73,
283 D Howell (Eng) 69 71 69 74, S Gallacher (Sco) 68 70 75 70, G Maybin (Nir) 71 73 71 68, T Björn (Den) 68 69 74 72, S Kjeldsen (Den) 69 68 73 73,
284 M Kaymer (Ger) 68 76 69 71, M Warren (Sco) 69 72 70 73, G Shaw (Nir) 72 69 74 69, B Wiesberger (Aut) 70 71 68 75, H Otto (RSA) 71 71 69 73,
285 S Benson (Eng) 71 72 73 69, V Dubuisson (Fra) 68 75 76 66, F Molinari (Ita) 71 74 67 73, S Khan (Eng) 71 73 68 73, J Campillo (Esp) 74 69 68 74, F Aguilar (Chi) 68 72 74 71, D McGrane (Irl) 70 72 74 69,
286 I Poulter (Eng) 73 71 69 73, K Broberg (Swe) 72 69 73 72, L Slattery (Eng) 71 70 70 75, M Manassero (Ita) 73 69 73 71,
287 S Henry (Sco) 73 68 74 72, R Wattel (Fra) 67 75 74 71, T Pieters (Bel) 70 72 75 70, R Derksen (Ned) 72 70 73 72, R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 70 72 72 73,
288 R Finch (Eng) 75 70 74 69, A Dunbar (Nir) 70 75 72 71, G Bourdy (Fra) 69 73 70 76, R Fisher (Eng) 70 73 71 74,
289 M Nixon (Eng) 68 73 74 74, A Hansen (Den) 66 78 75 70, M Madsen (Den) 71 71 77 70, G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 74 71 72 72,
290 D Drysdale (Sco) 70 74 69 77, M Lundberg (Swe) 71 74 72 73, L Donald (Eng) 71 73 71 75, A Cañizares (Esp) 71 69 80 70, C Doak (Sco) 71 70 72 77, C Lloyd (Eng) 70 73 73 74, F Zanotti (Par) 68 68 78 76,
291 J Luiten (Ned) 71 71 73 76, M Kuchar (USA) 70 75 73 73, S Hansen (Den) 75 67 74 75,
292 A Snobeck (Fra) 76 69 73 74, J Morrison (Eng) 69 72 75 76, J Parry (Eng) 74 70 70 78, E Goya (Arg) 68 76 77 71, M Lafeber (Ned) 76 69 74 73, A Levy (Fra) 69 76 75 72,
293 M Jiménez (Esp) 69 76 68 80,
294 T Aiken (RSA) 71 74 74 75, S Jamieson (Sco) 69 70 80 75, I Garrido (Esp) 75 70 68 81,
295 R Ramsay (Sco) 69 71 73 82,
296 M Hoey (Nir) 69 74 74 79, L Gagli (Ita) 73 72 75 76,
299 S Chowrasia (Ind) 76 67 82 74