Graeme McDowell fired an eight-under-par 63 and held off rampant Welsh prodigy Rhys Davies to win the Wales Open by three strokes yesterday for his first victory in two years.
After a spectacular burst of eight birdies on the first 11 holes, the 30-year-old Portrush star played safe in a tough wind over the closing seven holes on the 2010 Course at Celtic Manor, parring them all to stake an early claim for a return visit for the Ryder Cup in October.
“It was probably the best round I've ever put together to win a golf tournament,” he said.
McDowell put himself in position to challenge for victory with a 64 on Saturday and said it could be difficult to do something similar again. In the event, he went one better as he finished with a 15-under-par 269 over the 7,358-yard course.
And he needed almost all of his brilliance, with Davies shooting a course record 62, including a pair of eagle twos that had him targeting a 59 until he bogeyed the 16th and could only make par on the last two holes.
McDowell all but ensured his victory at the 16th when, after missing the green and finishing in heavy greenside rough, he chipped to 20 feet and rolled in the putt to save par. A fine tee shot at the dangerous 17th then left the outcome in absolutely no doubt.
“I'm ecstatic, obviously. So many great players in this tournament. When I saw Marc Warren shoot an eight-under 63 early, I thought I'd just go out and try to give myself chances. I can't imagine the first 11 holes, the way I did it. I gave myself so many chances, it was unbelievable,” he added.
“I sensed other people were playing well as well. My caddie Ken told me to keep the pedal down. I could hear some Welsh cheers going up for Rhys, but the first time I looked at the leaderboard was at the 14th.
“It's a really tough finish on this course and it's great the way they set it up for scoring. It's great for European golf and now I really hope to be here in October.
“But this is only the first step. I need a big summer,” continued McDowell, who played on the 2008 European team that lost at Valhalla, Kentucky.
He began his charge with a 20-footer at the first hole. A gap wedge third to 10 feet at the long and dangerous third — where Scotland's Paul Lawrie took 11 on Friday — set up a second birdie.
He holed four putts of between four and 10 feet over four of the next five holes, made another 10-footer at the 10th and chipped to four feet at the long 11th.
Gareth Maybin closed with a 68 to secure joint 27th place on one under while Darren Clarke bogeyed both the closing holes for a 73 to finish in joint 39th on two over.
Clarke heads to Sunningdale today for final Open qualifying over 36 holes where 96 players are vying for ten places at St Andrews.
l DEFENDING champion Paul Cutler made it safely through to the matchplay stages of the East of Ireland championship at Blatray after finishing fourth in the qualifying rounds.
His two-under par round left him level with Castle's Dara Lernihan and Aaron Kearney of Castlerock.
It's a measure of just how tough the early going was that Cutler managed just one birdie, at the short 15th, in a fighting round of 74 and took four putts to get down from just off the front of the green at the 17th.