THOUSAND OAKS, Ca. – There was no better way for Graeme McDowell to end the golf season than to win his first tournament in the past two years – at the same course he last won a golf tournament.
Even with the Sherwood Country Club playing longer than ever in a light rain, McDowell closed with a 4-under 68 on Sunday and held off Keegan Bradley with a pair of superb short-game shots that carried him to a three-shot win in the World Challenge.
It was the 10th time in 12 rounds at Sherwood that McDowell has shot in the 60s, and he extended his dominance on the course that Jack Nicklaus carved out among the foothills of Conejo Valley. In three appearances, McDowell has won twice and was runner-up.
But this one was meaningful in its own right.
“This really caps off my season,” McDowell said. “We try not to put winning on a pedestal, but this one feels very sweet because it’s been a grind all year.”
McDowell won for the first time since he beat Tiger Woods in a playoff at Sherwood to close out a dream season in 2010 that included his first major at the U.S. Open and the winning point for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
This win followed a year of frustration. He played in the final group of the U.S. Open and Open Championship but came up short, and he lost some enthusiasm going into tournaments late in the year. He talked all week about a 10-week break, some of it in Northern Ireland and the rest in Orlando, Fla., where he just built a new house and he’s opening a tavern outside the gates of Lake Nona.
It was the perfect way to leave golf for the next few months.
Bradley, who was within one shot after a birdie on the fifth hole, closed with a 69. Bo Van Pelt had a 70 to finish third. Woods, the tournament host and five-time champion, was never in the picture. He didn’t make birdie until the 13th hole and shot 71 to tie for fourth.
Bradley’s birdie on the 13th hole for a two-shot swing brought him within two shots with five holes to play. McDowell never let him get any closer, however. He hit a beautiful lag putt from 75 feet just off the green at No. 14 for an easy par, then hit a chip from behind the 17th green that he was hopeful of getting within 6 feet of the cup. The ball was one turn from falling for birdie.
McDowell made a 6-foot birdie on the 18th that he didn’t really need to finish on 17-under 271 and earn $1 million against the 18-man field.
And he felt as though he earned it.
A light rain fell for much of the round, as it has all week, making Sherwood play so long that McDowell had to hit a 5-wood into the par-4 fourth hole, and a 4-iron for his third shot in the par-5 fifth. His only bogey over the final 47 holes of the tournament came on the 13th hole.
“Certainly I will draw some confidence from this one,” McDowell said. “The game hasn’t given me a huge amount this year.”
Woods needed a fast start and was stuck in neutral. He failed to birdie the par 5s on the front nine and dropped a shot on the seventh hole when his flop shot below the green came out heavy. He didn’t make his first birdie until the par-5 13th.
“I struggled with my game a little bit this week,” said Woods, playing for the first time in five weeks. “I just managed myself well to get around in these conditions.”
Van Pelt opened with two birdies and tried to hang around in contention on the back nine.
But this was a duel from the start.
— McDowell (63 of 72) led the field in Greens in Regulation, hitting eight more than his nearest competitor (Jim Furyk, 55 of 72).
— McDowell made his third start at the World Challenge this week, with victories in 2010 and 2012 and a runner-up finish in 2009. He joins Tiger Woods (5 wins) and Davis Love III (2 wins) as multiple winners of the tournament.
— McDowell now owns 12 scores below par in as many rounds at the event, including 10 in the 60s.
— McDowell’s winning score of 17-under 271 fell five shy of the tournament record of 266, set by Tiger Woods in 2007. His three-stroke win is four shy of the largest winning margin at the World Challenge (7, Tiger Woods, 2007).
— McDowell becomes just the second 54-hole leader/co-leader in the last nine years to go on to win the World Challenge (Tiger Woods/2007). In the 14 years of the event, the third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win five times (Tom Lehman/1999, Padraig Harrington/2002, Davis Love III/2003, Woods/2007, McDowell/2012).
— Past World Challenge winners in the field: McDowell (1st), Tiger Woods (T4) and Jim Furyk (T4).
— With a T4 finish this week, Tiger Woods (12 starts) finished outside the top-2 at the World Challenge for just the third time in his career (10th/1999, T14/2005, T4/2012).
— Keegan Bradley made vast improvements in his second start at the World Challenge, following up a 17th place finish in 2011 (rounds of 76-75-74-73) with a runner-up effort this week (69-69-67-69).
–Two players made their first World Challenge start: FedExCup champ Brandt Snedeker (T13) and Jason Dufner (T15).
— The toughest hole was the par-4 18th hole (4.222). The easiest hole was the par-5 11th (4.583).
— Due to wet conditions, lift, clean and place was used during all four rounds.