GMac fulfills early promise
Europe knew it had a special talent on its hands when Graeme McDowell turned pro in 2002 and won in just his 4th event.
The European Tour knew it had a special talent on its hands when Graeme McDowell turned professional in 2002 and won just his fourth event on the circuit.
However, it is only now, eight years later, that they realise just how special he is.
By ending a 40-year European drought at the United States Open and by becoming Northern Ireland’s first major champion since Fred Daly won the 1947 Open, McDowell has moved into the superstar class.
This might not lead to an airport being named after him, as happened to the legendary George Best, but the 30-year-old can still expect a hero’s welcome when he flies home from Pebble Beach.
Yet what a turnaround in his fortunes has happened this past month – a remarkable month for British golfers which has seen them win three successive events on the US Tour for the first time in history.
Justin Rose and Lee Westwood would be the first to say, though, that a major trumps everything that they did at the Memorial Tournament in Ohio and the St Jude Classic in Memphis.
As would Ian Poulter and McDowell’s countryman and likely Ryder Cup partner Rory McIlroy. They have also won in what is proving a sensational season in America.
As he celebrates the United Kingdom’s first win in any major since Paul Lawrie at the 1999 Open – a Frenchman finished second there as well, of course – McDowell’s mind will probably go back four weeks.
The Portrush player went to bed after the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth unsure about his place in the world’s top 50 and knowing that if he dropped out he would be involved the following day in 36 holes of qualifying at Walton Heath.
But he stayed in by 0.05 ranking points and went to the Madrid Masters talking about a weight being lifted from his shoulders.
After coming fourth in the Spanish capital – his best Tour finish since he won the Scottish Open two years ago – he moved on to the Wales Open and the same Celtic Manor course where he is certain now to earn a second Ryder Cup cap in October. He pulled off a stunning victory.
Having been in danger of missing the halfway cut, he fired weekend rounds of 64 and 63 to win by three.
“I feel like I’m in the form of my life right now – and I really feel I have a big event in me,” he said.
Amazingly, he had to wait only for his next tournament to be true to his word.
Pebble Beach was the culmination of a career ignited by his time at the University of Alabama, where he was ranked the number one college player in the States, won six of 12 events in his final year and had a stroke average of 69.6.
That beat the previous record held by Tiger Woods and Luke Donald and alongside Donald he helped Britain and Ireland retain the Walker Cup in Georgia.
Despite winning the Scandinavian Masters soon after joining the paid ranks, he lost out as Rookie of the Year to another team-mate in Nick Dougherty, but in 2004 rose to sixth on the money list after adding the Italian Open and four other top three finishes.
Two further wins in 2008 secured his Ryder Cup debut and at Valhalla he took 2 1/2 points out of four, partnering Poulter to a fourballs win and then beating Stewart Cink in the singles.
Little did anybody know then that it was a clash between the man who would win The Open last year and the US Open this year.
Special indeed – and with his 31st birthday still over a month away, who knows what lies ahead?
He has, after all, twice led The Open after the first day and now he knows what it takes to lead a major after all four days.
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