Graeme McDowell, 40, who lost his PGA Tour card in 2018 and was ranked outside the world’s top 200 for much of 2019, survived a shaky start Sunday to win his first European Tour event – the Saudi International – since 2014.
One stroke ahead of Thomas Pieters at 10-under par after 13 holes in the final round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, he made a “massive” birdie putt at the 14th. Then, with the sun bouncing off the ocean at the 15th, he added to that scene by making an 8-footer for a second successive birdie.
McDowell’s three-shot lead with three to play was what he had wished for himself at breakfast and, though he had a struggle on his hands to pin down three closing pars, he ended up two strokes ahead of Dustin Johnson and three clear of Pieters, Phil Mickelson and Gavin Green.
Among the many texts McDowell had received on Saturday night was one from Lee Westwood, who had won in Abu Dhabi two weeks earlier at age 46. “It’s inspiring to see guys win in their 40s,” McDowell said. “When I got his message, I felt he was saying, ‘You can do it, too.’ ”
When it comes to age, Mickelson is another worth a mention. At 49, his share of third place revived a host of good memories. “It was such fun to be back in the mix,” he said.
McDowell, who won a PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic last year, is on what he hopes is a return journey to the world stage. After a T4 finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month and the Saudi victory, his projected rise back into the top 50 has happened more quickly than he had expected, and now he is taking aim on the top 20. In the process, he wants to show his children “that their daddy is tough, that he can do it.”
He was to fly home first thing Monday morning to play at Pebble Beach, where he won the 2010 U.S. Open, and he is hoping against hope that he will make it into the Masters, where he last played in 2016.
It was typical of McDowell that, in victory, he had a quiet word with Victor Dubuisson, his companion for the last round and the player he mentored in the 2014 Ryder Cup. Dubuisson took a bit of a tumble down the leaderboard on Sunday but, in McDowell’s opinion, the 29-year-old Frenchman is on the way back. “I have a soft spot for him,” McDowell said. “I told him to get out there and love the game again. He’s a talented kid.”
RESULTS | RACE TO DUBAI