x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

McDowell's late putts sink Woods

Graeme McDowell upstages Tiger Woods in the Chevron World Challenge in California with a performance typical of his brilliant season.

Graeme McDowell, left, and Tiger Woods get serious as they prepare for the sudden-death play-off at the Chevron World Challenge.
Graeme McDowell, left, and Tiger Woods get serious as they prepare for the sudden-death play-off at the Chevron World Challenge.

Tiger Woods was back on a familiar stage on Sunday, with one big difference: He was a witness, not a winner.

Graeme McDowell upstaged Woods in the Chevron World Challenge in California with a performance typical of his brilliant season.

McDowell, the winner of the US Open at Pebble Beach and the hero of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, came up with another great moment in a year filled with them.

Woods hit an eight-iron to inside three feet on the 18th hole at the Sherwood Country Club for what looked like a sure victory, but McDowell rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt to force a sudden-death play-off.

Then, McDowell made a similar putt from about 25 feet on the same hole in the play-off to win.

"Those are probably two of the greatest putts I've made," McDowell said, pausing to step out of the moment. He made a few good ones at Pebble Beach. And there was that 15-foot birdie putt in the Ryder Cup that led to a European victory.

On second thought ...

"Holed a couple of nice putts this year," he continued, smiling. "But they were certainly up there. To play the weekend alongside Tiger, it's a pretty special feeling to go out there four back and do the job."

No one had ever beaten Woods when trailing him by three shots or more going into the final round. It had been 12 years since anyone had topped Woods in a play-off on home soil.

In the eight months since Woods returned to golf following his personal problems, he changed swing coaches, was divorced from his wife and never once looked a serious contender to win a tournament.

That changed at his own tournament, on a course where he had won four times.

But he ran into the wrong guy.

McDowell has his own reputation as a tough customer, and he showed why. With a one-shot lead, McDowell pulled his eight-iron so deep into the rough on the 17th that he had to take a one-stroke penalty and find a good place to drop it.

He wound up on the 18th tee, and hit a risky chip over the tree to about seven feet. If Woods made his birdie or McDowell missed his putt, Woods would take a one-shot lead to the 18th.

Woods missed. McDowell didn't.

"It's just one of those head-scratching moments where you're thinking, 'What am I going to do here'?" McDowell said. "Between myself and my caddie, we worked out the lesser of two evils. I made the right decision and managed to get it done there and hole a clutch putt, which set up the opportunity in the last."

McDowell, who closed with a 69 and finished at 16-under 272, won US$1.2 million (Dh4.4m) and moved to a career-high No 7 in the world.

"They're the kind of putts that you make them, and you can't really believe it afterward," McDowell said. "They were the stuff of dreams - 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It's been that kind of year."

To appreciate what kind of year it has been for Woods is to listen to him reflect in the moments after a crushing loss.

"It was a great week, even though I didn't win," said Woods, who closed with a 73.

Despite the loss, Woods led after each of the first three rounds. In contention for the first time this year on the back nine on Sunday brought back pressure, and Woods slipped into some old swing flaws that cost him dearly.

He also missed three putts inside six feet on the opening four holes, and another putt from about that range on the 13th.

Through it all, he still gave himself a chance to win.

"I had to battle through it," Woods said.

Woods was heading home to Florida for nearly two months of practice before starting a new season that cannot get here soon enough.

"The way I'm playing right now, yeah, I would like to continue playing," Woods said. "Even though I lost and made countless mistakes in the middle part of the round, it said a lot for me to come back and put my swing back together again."

It was great theatre. And for the first time all year, Woods was part of the act, even if he wound up in a supporting role.

"He used to appear invincible," McDowell said. "Of course, he's made himself appear more human in the last 12 months. But there's something a bit special about his golf game, and I fully expect that mystique to return as the golf clubs start doing the talking again."