That’s what U.S. Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, managed to accomplish today. Paired in the final round with Tiger in his tournament, the Chevron World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, McDowell made up all four strokes he had ceded to Tiger as they stood on the first tee. He made a spectacular 30-foot putt on 18 to get into a playoff and made basically the same putt on the first playoff hole to take…the greatest player ever…out.
This was all very interesting from a mastery point of view because of how it unfolded. By the time they came on the air, Tiger had 3-putted twice and birdied twice to be even par through five holes. McDowell was three under. And just one behind.
And that’s where they stayed until Tiger double-bogeyed the par-5, 13th…and McDowell birdied it! McDowell up by two. It was hard to tell if Tiger’s cascading string of small mistakes that led to the double were nerves or not, but it had the feel of it, particularly after he flew his lay-up approach shot into trouble over the green.
McDowell was so excited to have such an astonishing breaking of the logjam—he had the “best ever” down by two shots with just five holes to play—that he went to the next tee and promptly sailed his tee shot into the rough on the right hillside. When the adrenaline gets pumping, the tendency is to over-swing and the clubface never gets square. The shot looked so bad from the tee, that he hit a provisional tee shot because he feared it was lost.
Tiger hit the fairway, carved a long iron around a tree up into the green short right of the pin. McDowell had to lay up out of the rough and made bogey. Now just one up.
Tiger hit a solid tee shot on the par-3, 17th. It was 178 yards to the pin on the back of the green and he hit an 8-iron. McDowell, not wanting to be long and leave the ball above the hole, hit 8-iron too.
There’s a funny thing that happens when you take too little club in an effort not to hit it long: your body instinctively hits it harder trying to max out what it knows is an inadequate club. You know it’s safe to hit all you’ve got because it can’t get all the way back there…but sometimes, in your ardor you hit it too hard, the clubface closes down, in effect making it a lower-lofted club, and you hit it longer. Something that never occurred to you as a possibility. And, in McDowell’s case, into an unplayable lie in tall, thick grasses on the hillside over the back of the green.
What proceeded from there was about ten minutes of deciding if he could take the prescribed drops in the vicinity of the ball or would have to go back to the tee. If he went back to the tee, odds were that he would make a double-bogey. So he was working like crazy to see if there was any way to avoid that.
Finally, keeping the spot where the ball landed between him and the hole, he was able to climb up the hill behind the green to the 9th tee, and take a drop on its fringe. Left with a forty-yard shot over an obstructing tree, he hit an incredible flop shot that settled within four feet of the hole. It was incredible because it was such a high-risk, creative shot executed so precisely, they’ll be talking about it for years.
Tiger two-putted for his par, McDowell sank his putt for a bogey and the match was back to even. But after McDowell’s gritty, scrappy, fearless, derring-do, Tiger was put on notice that McDowell was not going to just roll over because of a bad shot. He was going to fight to the death.
Both hit 3-woods off the 18th tee, carving them around the dogleg right. Tiger was away and hit a stunning shot to within two feet of the hole. The crowd roared. McDowell hit his 30 feet from the hole. Game over…or so everybody thought.
As Tiger passively watched, McDowell went through his same gritty, scrappy, fearless, derring-do he exhibited on 17…and sank the putt. He sank it! It was like a canon shot right at Tiger’s first win this year…and his last chance to win this year. Tiger calmly sank his two-footer right over the dead center of the lip of the cup. Back to the 18th tee for the playoff.
They both hit similar tee shots and once again Tiger was away. He hit a good shot but about 25 feet away this time. McDowell hit almost the exact same shot as the last time, but on a slightly straighter line.
I started trying to remember what the next playoff hole was going to be. McDowell sunk the putt. Tiger said later that he expected him to make it—that’s what you say you were thinking in such circumstances—but you know that he was really focused on the odds that he wouldn’t.
Tiger just missed his. And McDowell capped off a year to remember with a stunning, improbable victory over the giant of the game: Tiger was playing like a machine again and he had a 4-shot lead.
Until Graeme McDowell grabbed him by the tail.
Other Tournament Results
As expected, in South Africa at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, World #1, Lee Westwood, not only won, he won by 8 shots.
In a mild upset at the LPGA Championship in Orlando, Florida, Maria Hjorth shot even par, to win by one over Amy Yang who shot 2-over. Surprisingly, Cristie Kerr, known for her fierce competitiveness, wasn’t able to get it going, shooting 1-over.
And finally, going into Monday’s final round at Q-School, also in Orlando, feel-good-story, Billy Mayfair is tied for the lead and looks like a lock to retain the tour card he’s had for over twenty years. But my attention will be on the two players I’ve been featuring all week, the “little kid from San Rafael,” Zack Miller (T4) and the other player I featured in that link, veteran, Paul Stankowski (T16). Good luck men.
The top 25 and ties win their Tour cards for 2011 and the crescendo begins on the Golf Channel, 12:30 to 4:00.