GRAEME McDOWELL revealed that the closing stages of his decisive Ryder Cup match with Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor was the “most difficult nine holes of golf I’ve ever played in my life.”
That seems hard to believe from a man who had held his head en route to victory in this year’s US Open at Pebble Beach when many of the game’s biggest names were losing theirs.
Captain Colin Montgomerie gave him arguably the most difficult role yesterday, that of anchor man and as his match went through the turn, he sensed that his battle with Mahan could decide the destination of the famous trophy.
“The guys playing down the order agreed that we wouldn’t check out the leaderboards,” he revealed. “But the screens by every green were quite big and it was tough not to notice. At the 10th, I realised that things were really tight and that the last few matches were going to come into play. Obviously, I hoped I wasn’t going to be needed.
“At that point, I got extremely nervous and I’ve never felt nerves like it in my life.
“I was out there trying to win it for me, for my teammates, for Colin, for Europe, for all of those fans out there. It was a different level altogether to Pebble Beach. And, you know, that is why this golf tournament is extremely special and will continue to be probably the greatest golf event on the planet.”
Sport at any level can be very cruel and McDowell’s opponent yesterday, Mahan, was so distraught at losing the key match that he was unable to answer questions in the subsequent press conference.
His reaction erased suggestions that the Americans don’t care about the Ryder Cup.
“I’m sure Hunter was disappointed but he played great today and we had a great match,” he said. “It was a funny atmosphere out there. It was very flat for 12 or 13 holes and then all of a sudden, it was obvious that our match was going to count. He played some great golf down the stretch and shouldn’t feel too disappointed. Apart from the chip at 17, he played pretty flawless golf coming down the stretch. I’m sure he felt had a chance to win it for the USA.
“The emotions surrounding this tournament are different from anything else. Golf is a very individual and very selfish sport. We play for ourselves, week in, week out. When it comes to this week, it’s different. I have 11 teammates who gave me the opportunity to do what I did this afternoon. I had 11 of the greatest players in the world beside me and the emotions and passions that everyone displays at the Ryder Cup is different. It just happened that it came down to me. I didn’t want that for sure and I’m just honoured and privileged to win the Ryder Cup for these guys.”
All the time, McDowell was trying to think positively but he was honest enough to admit that the tension was unbearable.
“I had a massive amount of emotions going through my head. That is the most difficult nine holes of golf I’ve ever played in my life. As my teammates started filtering back to me, winners and guys who had lost their games… and then I found out that Rickie Fowler had just halved his match and a half in my game wasn’t enough any more. I was really nervous over every shot. I haven’t felt great about my game all week and have been struggling with my swing. I really had to grind it out and 16 was the greatest second shot and the greatest putt I’ve ever hit in my career.
“I can’t compare this to Pebble Beach, this is another stratosphere altogether. I was imagining winning, I was imagining losing, of course there was negativity. The 17th green after Hunter conceded was nuts.
“They say if you can’t handle the celebrations, don’t score the goal. But I think there’s too much emphasis put on the guy who holes the winning putt because this is not an individual event.”
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