POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2011
KAPALUA, MAUI » Graeme McDowell never had a better Sunday scoring-wise than yesterday's final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but did he ever have a better day?
"Sunday of the U.S. Open was pretty fun last year," McDowell said, as the press room erupted in laughter.
On that Sunday at Pebble Beach, McDowell shot a final-round 74, a dozen strokes worse than the closing 62 he fired yesterday on the spacious Plantation Course, but good enough to win the 2010 U.S. Open.
"The 11 under par ties my lowest-ever round as a professional golfer; so from that point of view, from a pure scoring point of view, no, I've never had a better day than this," said McDowell, who began the final round six shots off the pace. "It was at the Irish Open a couple of years ago, and I followed that up with a withdrawal the next day, so that was kind of interesting."
Had he sunk a 9-footer for birdie at the last yesterday, he would have made things very interesting by joining Robert Garrigus and eventual champion Jonathan Byrd in a playoff. As it was, his 62 equaled K.J. Choi's course record set in 2003. Not bad for a first-timer in this season-opening event.
"I've really enjoyed this week," McDowell said. "It's a week you want to be at, and it's a week obviously you want to be here every year because it means you've won a golf tournament and that normally signifies a pretty good year."
McDowell opened with a 71 on Thursday and was level par over the closing six holes through the first three rounds, something he and his caddie wanted to improve upon entering yesterday's closing round.
Poor placement off the tee plagued McDowell over the opening 54 holes, so he decided to do something about it and it resulted in four consecutive birdies on the front nine and another four on the back. Over the final six holes yesterday, he was 4 under. It gave him a chance to win.
"When you go into a final round that far back and you know the scoring is going to be good, there's nothing you can do really but just put your head down and try to have a great day yourself. When I birdied 13 through 16, I kind of started to think that maybe I had an outside shot; and I thought if I birdied the last, I might have had a chance to be in a playoff."
He turned out to be correct. He got on the green in three at the monstrous par 5 and needed to sink a 9-footer for birdie to drop to 24 under for the event. Playing partner Matt Kuchar had a similar line, but didn't strike the ball well. That left McDowell on his own.
"You know, I had a decent putt," McDowell said. "It was a little double-breaker. It kind of bumped off to the right and then tried to come back, but I kind of smoked it through the break. I kind of shoved it. I didn't play 18 that well this week."
McDowell needed only 25 putts in the final round that included 11 birdies over the closing 18 holes. He just missed an 8-footer at No. 12 and the 9-footer at the last or it could have been McDowell hoisting the trophy instead of Byrd.
"I really look back at the first three rounds as the problem for me," said McDowell, who finished alone in third. "I didn't finish the golf course very well at all. That was the key really. That was the difference between coming up short and having a chance to win this weekend."