Graeme McDowell enjoys French victory ahead of Open challenge
He is a winner again and now Graeme McDowell will head into the Open Championship at Hoylake on Thursday week buoyed by his first ever successful title defence following a dramatic final round of the Alstom Open de France.
Pride of Portrush McDowell overturned an eight-shot deficit thanks to a brilliant closing 67 despite the wet and windy conditions at Le Golf National, although he also had plenty of help from American Kevin Stadler.
Stadler's four-shot overnight lead disappeared with a front nine of 41, but he battled back well with birdies on the 14th and 16th to pull within one of McDowell, who had moved three ahead with his fifth birdie of the day on the 16th.
With McDowell then dropping his only shot of the day on the 18th after finding heavy rough off the tee, Stadler needed to par the 18th to force a play-off but missed from two feet just as McDowell left the recording area to prepare for extra holes.
Stadler's closing 76 left him in a tie for second with Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, who dropped five shots in the first four holes but played the remainder in four under for a 72.
"I'm very surprised," McDowell said after claiming his 10th European Tour title and a top prize of 500,000 euros (£396,000).
"Midway through my second glass of red wine last night, when I was very disappointed with my back-nine performance on Saturday, I really didn't think I'd be a) standing here with an opportunity to be in a play-off and b) with a trophy in my hands.
"I feel very fortunate. Kevin Stadler is a great, great player. I literally gave him that putt on the last green. I didn't expect him to miss that.
"It's not really the way you like to win. I was ready to go for the play-off, but I'll take it and run. I really needed this victory. It's a special one for me. It's pretty timely. There's a busy summer ahead and this a really good kick-start to the summer.
"It was tough, a lot more rain and the wind switched, and it got cold. Pretty European, pretty Irish conditions. I've always thought of myself a decent bad weather golfer, until the last five years, I feel like I'm spending a little bit too much time in America. I'm getting a little bit soft!"
McDowell has deliberately played a lighter schedule this year – even missing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – to leave himself fresher for the second half of the season.
"It's a good decision now, but I have to say myself and my team were starting to question it," the former US Open champion added on Sky Sports 4.
"But my body has probably never been in as good a shape at this point in the season coming into two Major championships, the FedEx Cup play-offs and hopefully the Ryder Cup.
"I'm very proud to defend my first title ever and this is the boost I needed on many fronts, especially the Ryder Cup (the win takes him 10th on the European points list)."
McDowell, who held the outright lead after the first round of the Open the last time it was held at Hoylake in 2006, added: "I was at Hoylake a couple of weeks ago.
"I think it's my type of set-up. You really have to find fairways off the tee and there are big flat greens where you can hole some putts. This is a nice confidence booster and I will be back at Hoylake next Sunday ready to go."
Stadler found himself five clear of the field when playing partner Jaidee got off to a terrible start and local favourite Victor Riu followed a birdie on the first with a double bogey on the second.
But the 34-year-old then missed from 18 inches for par on the fourth and four feet on the sixth, before running up a double-bogey six on the next where his ball was found in the rough because an on-course television commentator stood on it.
Stadler was allowed a free drop but could only hack the ball a few yards sideways and eventually did well to get up and down from short of the green for a six.
A poor chip from left of the eighth green led to another bogey and two more early in the back nine looked to have ended his chances as McDowell picked up shots on the 13th, 14th and 16th.
Mum and dad savour G-Mac's win
A delighted Graeme McDowell was joined by his proud parents yesterday as the Portrush golfer picked up the silverware at the French Open.
It was a nailbiting day of drama for the star's dad Kenny and mum Marian as he came from eight shots behind in pouring rain to win by a stroke. It also marked his first ever successful title defence.
"I'm very surprised," McDowell said after claiming his 10th European Tour title.
"I really didn't think I'd be a) standing here with an opportunity to be in a play-off and b) with a trophy in my hands."
The win will be a big boost for McDowell as he heads for the Open Championship in two weeks' time.
"I really needed this victory. It's a special one for me. It's pretty timely," he said.
Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey, Sweden's Robert Karlsson, and France's Victor Riu secured their places at the Open with their French Open finishes.
Three spots at Hoylake were up for grabs for players, not already exempt, who finished in the top 10 at Le Golf National. Karlsson and Hoey finished fourth and seventh respectively with Riu eighth.