McDowell’s $650,000 bonus

IT certainly was an ill wind that blew in favour of Graeme McDowell when Tiger Woods pulled out of his own tournament last week.

By finishing clear second in the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday night, McDowell picked up a cool $650,000 from a tournament he was never supposed to play in until Tiger’s withdrawal. Even more importantly in the context of the Portrush golfer’s immediate future, he has jumped an amazing 17 places in the world rankings from 55th to 38th and so is assured of his place in the Masters field at Augusta National next April.

Prior to the surprise call to the World Challenge, McDowell had reconciled himself to being outside the top 50 at the end of December and, accordingly, without an automatic spot in the Masters. He could still make it through his exploits in the first few months of 2010 but it was as he arrived in Los Angeles last Monday last after finishing second in the World Cup with Rory McIlroy that he received two pieces of really significant news from his manager Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management.

Primarily, he had been invited to fill the gap left by Tiger’s absence and secondly, for the first time in the history of the tournament, the World Challenge was offering world ranking points. The manner in which the 30 year-old from Portrush responded speaks volumes not only for his golfing skills but also for his mental toughness. To finish just one behind Jim Furyk at the end of 72 holes and ahead of a top class field was a magnificent achievement.

“Yeah, it was a fun week”, he enthused afterwards. “This is a great tournament, great players here, wonderful golf course. It was such a bonus, obviously, to get in here, and obviously in the circumstances. We all know why. I feel very fortunate to play as well as I did.”

In a strange kind of way, McDowell believed the unusual circumstances in which he got into the tournament could have been a blessing in disguise.

“Sometimes when you find yourself in a golf tournament that you haven’t mentally prepared for, you’re not really sure what’s going on. It took me 48 hours to sort of get my head around it. It was very difficult to get the mindset tuned in.”

Apart from the very welcome cheque that came more or less out of the blue, qualification for the Masters and the jump up to 38th in the world rankings are two other massive bonuses for McDowell. But he tried all he could during Sunday’s round to keep those thoughts out of his mind.

“I purposely didn’t really do the calculations”, he revealed. “My manager, Conor, obviously did so but I didn’t want to put myself under any pressure. I was certainly playing nothing-to-lose golf. I just felt fortunate to be here anyway, so I really was going out to play as well as I possibly could and see where that left me.”

McDowell stays in the States this week to play in a Skins match but the year is now over for Pádraig Harrington, who holed two chip shots for eagles and another for a birdie on Sunday before finishing in a share of third place. Nevertheless, he blamed his putting for his failure to capture Tiger’s trophy for the second time.

“I misread the greens all week”, he claimed. “I had seven three-putts over the four days so obviously I could have done better. I can’t give up that many on the greens.”

Harrington’s disappointment is understandable in that the tournament offered him a good chance of winning his first title in 2009. His most recent victory dates back to the 2008 US PGA Championship and that hurts. As always, though, his glass is half full and you sense that his new season (beginning with the LA Open in January) can’t come quickly enough.

“It was a disappointing year in terms of results,” he conceded. “But it was very good in terms of the benefits. So I’m happy. That’s it. It’s probably a good year to put behind me, too.”

A reference, of course, to his failure to capitalise on extremely promising final day positions in two or three big events – most notably the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA – but he is now content to settle for an eight-week break of chilling out with the family.

“Just being at home, not having any deadlines, not having any schedule, that’s what I’m looking forward to and, of course, a lot of practice,” he said while still struggling to put his very apparent disappointment at not finishing off the job at the weekend. “The chip-in at 16 gave me some chance but obviously Jim (Furyk) finished strongly so he won the tournament and that’s the way it is.”

The season finished on a low note for Rory McIlroy after he was forced to withdraw from the Nedbank tournament at Sun City because of a stomach complaint.

For the previous month and more, he had been in contention for titles week after week, not to mention his pursuit of the Race to Dubai order of merit that he just lost out on in the final week to Lee Westwood. He will assuredly benefit from spending Christmas and the next couple of months back in Belfast with his family and friends before making his competitive return in the Abu Dhabi Championship at the end of January.

Indeed, that break is essential for McIlroy given that he will defend his Dubai Desert Classic title at the beginning of February before setting off for his first tilt at the US PGA Tour.

He plans to take in eight tournaments over there before returning to European Tour action in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond the week before the British Open Championship and then playing the 3 Irish Open at Killarney. After that, he’s back to the States for another three events over there.

You see why even a 20- year-old multi-millionaire needs a rest from time to time!

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