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'It's special to be back': Graeme McDowell wins first European Tour title since 2014 at Saudi International


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Graeme McDowell has ended his five-and-a-half year wait for his 11th European Tour win.

Graeme McDowell has ended his five-and-a-half year wait for his 11th European Tour win.

Getty Images

Graeme McDowell has won his 11th European Tour title.

Graeme McDowell has won his 11th European Tour title.

Getty Images

Graeme McDowell has ended his five-and-a-half year wait for his 11th European Tour win.

Graeme McDowell was in understandably emotional mood after winning his first European Tour title since 2014 with victory at the Saudi International.

The Portrush man shot a level par final round 70 to win by two shots from defending champion Dustin Johnson.

The success could scarcely be more significant for the 40-year-old, who is set to jump from 104th back inside the world's top 50 golfers for the first time since 2015 and just 11 months after he was ranked outside the top 250.

The victory has also catapulted McDowell into the thick of the both the Masters and Ryder Cup qualification battles.

If McDowell is ranked inside the world's top 50 at the start of April, he will qualify for the 2020 Masters, teeing it up at Augusta for the first time since 2016.

More performances like this week will also open up the potential to play at a Ryder Cup for the first time since 2014 when the matches take place at Whistling Straits in September.

"It's special to be back," he said, on the verge of tears. "A big goal was to be back in the top 50. It's come a little faster than I expected. I'm just excited.

"It's special. I've been working hard the last 18 months. I've said I want to be back up there one more time to be playing with these guys. The game of golf is in such a great place with so many great players. It's so exciting to be a great player and I want to be back up there.

"I've got young kids at home and I want them to see me out there. I want them to see that dad's tough and can do it. I don't want to have to pull up the Youtube videos. I can't wait to get home and see them."

Playing in the final group alongside former Ryder Cup partner Victor Dubuisson, who started just one shot back, McDowell found the fairway bunker off the first tee, eventually leading to a bogey five with a miscued par putt.

He would trade a birdie on the eighth for a bogey to close out the front nine, making the turn level with his playing partner on 11 under par for the week.

However, Dubuisson's challenge soon evaporated as he dropped five shots in his first five holes of the back nine.

While Thomas Pieters' five under par 65 was only enough to take a nine under par clubhouse lead, only an eagle at the last allowed Johnson to better that total while Gavin Green and Phil Mickelson also tied for third.

McDowell dealt the telling blow on the chasing pack with back to back birdies on the 14th and 15th, the latter after the shot of the day, a seven iron from 177 yards to inside 10 feet.

Those birdies more than made amends for a drop shot on 13 to open up a three shot advantage with three to play.

Safe two putt pars on 16 and 17 left the only hazard the water on the left of the par five 18th. McDowell safely negotiated his way to the greenside bunker in two, eventually getting down for a par to win by two.

"14 and 15 have fitted my eye quite well this week," he said. "My iron play wasn't in tip top shape but for some reason on 14, I hit one of my best iron shots every day.

"On the 14th green, that was the first time I had a look to see what everyone was doing.

"It was a huge bonus to birdie 15 and that took the pressure off.

"I'm really happy with where I'm going with my game. It's massive to have weeks like this. I'm really relieved to get this job done and obviously very happy."

Open champion Shane Lowry finished in a tie for 13th, one shot ahead of world number one Brooks Koepka.

Tiger Woods and world number two Rory McIlroy both rejected the chance to play in the tournament, with McIlroy admitting there was a 'morality' to his decision not to tee it up in Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record was described as “appalling as ever” by Amnesty International earlier this month.

Belfast Telegraph