Graeme McDowell insists he has “plenty left in the tank” for what he expects will be a tough Ryder Cup rematch with Celtic Manor victim Hunter Mahan despite being forced to come back from the dead for the second day in a row in the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain.
The hero of Europe’s 2010 victory in Wales — and the reigning Volvo World Matchplay champion — showed that he is arguably the toughest match player in the game when he came back from three down after six and two down with four to play to beat Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama one up.
It was another stunning performance from the Rathmore man, who has that handy knack of being able to hole clutch putts when it counts.
Against Matsuyama, who does not turn 22 until next week, he drained four crucial putts on the last four greens to walk away the winner and add some more positive vibes to his memory banks for what he hopes will be even bigger days ahead.
“I feel very fortunate again today,” McDowell said. “I've certainly expended all my energy and emotions the last couple of days. But thankfully it's early in the season and I've plenty left in the tank.”
Jokingly asked by a Welsh reporter if he had ever played Mahan in matchplay before, he smiled and said: “I think we played together in a reasonably high profile match there a few years ago, so there's a decent chance he might be out for a shade of revenge tomorrow, who knows. It's been a long time. A lot of water under the bridge since 2010.
“He's a quality player. He's got a great record around this golf course. He's going to be a tough nut to crack.
“But I certainly feel I've had a pretty good workout the last couple of days, and I should be in good shape going into tomorrow.”
Mahan beat Rory McIlroy in the final here two years ago and reached the final last year, only going down to Matt Kuchar by 2 and 1.
The American famously cried bitter tears in the US Ryder Cup press conference at Celtic Manor in 2010, where he flubbed a chip at the 17th and lost to McDowell in that decisive Ryder Cup singles.
The Californian is a better player now that he was three and a half years ago but McDowell has certainly not gone backwards. If anything, he’s a far more rounded player than the man who won the US Open in 2010 and appears hellbent on adding to his haul of major victories over the next few years.
Always a fearsome matchplay competitor, he wielded his putter like a sledgehammer against the unfortunate Matsuyama, who could only look on in awe as the Northern Irishman produced a series of clutch putts when it really mattered.
“Why do it the easy way when the hard way will do,” said McDowell, who went two down after three when Matsuyama started birdie-eagle. “I just got off to a slow start again, probably less so today.
“Hideki opened up 3-3, which, you know, two down walking off the second green. I was quite proud of myself when I got a half on three , so I was only two down after three, as opposed to three down today.”
He was soon three down after six and no doubt thinking that he was four down after seven to Gary Woodland in the first round and managed to come back to win at the 19th.
“And after that I played really clean golf. I tried to go out there today and execute my game plan and try not to give him any room for try not to make any mistakes, try not to give him anything. And he kind of played the same kind of golf back. He played very, very well.”
McDowell cut the gap to one hole by holing birdie putts a the seventh and eighth to turn one down.
According to the ShotLink statistics, he is first in the field for putts gained having used the blade just 25 times in his second round match.
After halves in par at the 10th, 11th and 12th and a half in birdie at the 13th, Matsuyama went two up again with a birdie at the 14th, where McDowell was bunkered off the tee and bogeyed.
Little did he know what lay in store.
At the 15th, McDowell holed an eight footer for a winning birdie to get back to one down before knocking in a 12 footer for a half in par at the 16th.
“The 16th especially was a massive putt to give me the opportunity,” he said. “TWo down with two to play, as opposed to only being one down and two to play.”
He then birdied the 17th to square the match, hitting a 147-yard wedge to five feet after Matsuyama had misjudged the wind and gone through the green.
The Japanese star then made another crucial error at the 18th, bunkering his tee shot.
McDowell’s approach rolled off the green but Matsuyama also missed the green and it was McDowell who got up and down from just short, holing a slippery seven footer for the win.
A huge lover of matchplay, he regards the WGC-Accenture as the perfect way to knock his game into shape and see exactly where he stands in what is just his second start of the season.
Asked where he got that elusive ability to hole do-or-die putts, he said: “You know, you hear the old Seve stuff that he just knew that it was going to go in, and he willed it in.
“The finality of match play is that you see things happening in match play. Say the Ryder Cups, for example, things happen. Chips get holed, shots get holed, and putts get holed, because there's that intense focus on trying to hole the shot, as opposed to stroke play which is so much more conservative.
“I wouldn't call it belief, I'd just call it determination really. There's much more focus and determination in what I'm trying to do. Try to couple that with good execution and good technique and hope for the best.
“I've been very proud of myself the last couple of days, coming off a long offseason, kind of making some good swings under pressure, and holing some good putts under pressure.
“There's no real kind of right or wrong way to go about it. Some guys have it, like Polts, he gets that look in his eye and everything goes in the hole. Match play kind of does that to guys, and thankfully I've had a little bit of that the last couple of days.”
Ernie Els produced a wonder-chip at the 20th to beat Justin Rose, which means that all four No 1 seeds are now out following defeats for Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson yesterday and Zach Johnson in round one.
Sergio Garcia beat Bill Haas 3 and 1 to set up a last 16 clash with Rickie Fowler while Victor Dubuisson of France will take on Bubba Watson.
Jason Day beat Billy Horschel at the 22nd and now faces South Africa's George Coetzee, who saw off Patrick Reed on the 21st.
Louis Oosthuizen's win over Stenson pits him against former US Open champion Webb Simpson while Els will face reigning US PGA champion Jason Dufner.
Reigning champion Matt Kuchar beat Ryan Moore one up and takes on Jordan Spieth, who crushed Thomas Bjorn 5 and 4
WGC-Accenture Match Play — Second round
Sergio Garcia (6) bt Bill Haas (28) 3 and 1
Rickie Fowler (53) bt Jimmy Walker (21) 1 up
Victor Dubuisson (27) bt Peter Hanson (59) 3 and 1
Bubba Watson (11) bt Jonas Blixt (43) 2 up
Jason Day (8) bt Billy Horschel (40) 22 holes
George Coetzee (56) bt Patrick Reed 21 holes
Matt Kuchar (7) bt Ryan Moore (26) 1 up
Jordan Spieth (10) bt Thomas Bjorn (23) 5 and 4
Harris English (36) bt Rory McIlroy (4) 19 holes
Jim Furyk (20) bt Charl Schwartzel (13) 3 and 2
Hunter Mahan (30) bt Richard Sterne (62) 2 up
Graeme McDowell (14) bt Hideki Matsuyama (19) 1 up
Louis Oosthuizen (32) bt Henrik Stenson (1) 4 and 3
Webb Simpson (17) bt Brandt Snedeker (16) 4 and 3
Ernie Els (31) bt Justin Rose (2) 20 holes
Jason Dufner (15) bt Matteo Manassero (47) 2 and 1.
Third round draw (Irish time)
- 1755 English v Furyk
- 1807 Garcia v Fowler
- 1819 Mahan v McDowell
- 1831 Dubuisson v Watson
- 1843 Oosthuizen v Simpson
- 1855 Day v Coetzee
- 1907 Els v Dufner
- 1919 Kuchar v Spieth