Graeme McDowell has canned a Caribbean family holiday and now has Augusta, Georgia on his mind in muscling his way back into the world’s top-50 after his Saudi International victory.
McDowell ended a near six-year European Tour winless drought in posting a final round 70 to win with a 12-under par tally in bright but very windy conditions on the course laid-out along the stunning Red Sea shoreline.
The win, McDowell’s 11th European Tour title along with a 15th worldwide since 2002, will see the Northern Irishman jump from 104th to around 47th on the World Rankings when they’re adjusted Monday morning.
And if McDowell remains inside the top-50 by March 30th, then he will be receiving a first Masters invitation since 2016.
Indeed, the now 40-year old had to be reminded of his last European Tour victory and that being a 2014 successful defence of his French Open title in Versailles.
“I didn’t realise it had been quite that long here in Europe so I’m very excited, and I’m very relieved,” he said.
“My big goal this year was to be back in the Top-50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments.
“I’m very excited that it’s happened a little faster than I expected but hopefully it’s laying some foundations down for having a big year.
“I really feel like I’m moving in the right direction, and it’s weeks like this that really support that.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 2, 2020
The win is McDowell’s 15th career title and remarkably 12 of those have been in a dozen different countries – Sweden, Italy, South Korea, Scotland, Wales, USA, Spain, Bulgaria, France, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Saudi Arabia.
Twelve months this week, McDowell returned to competition at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am following a long wrist injury lay-off, and his wrist was still strapped for his first event of 2019 when he teed up ranked a lowly 246th in the world.
Also, GMac had lost his full PGA Tour card and was in Pebble Beach on an invitation before some weeks later, with his wrist duly healed, he regained full PGA Tour membership in winning in the Dominican Republic.
In August last year he teamed-up with new coach, Kevin Kirk and kick-started 2020 with a T4 in just his second Tour event in the Hawaiian Islands.
Now a further two tournaments on, McDowell’s won again on the European Tour.
“This time last year I was sitting at home with a wrist injury with no card on the PGA Tour and wondered where my future was going to lie,” he said.
“It was difficult. But I was realistic. I had a positive attitude, which was important. I then went down to the Dominican, where I won, with a great attitude, I remember that. Pebble last year was my first event back and played pretty solid.
“I’m now in a pretty different position. I feel like I am playing a lot better and, most importantly, I feel I have great motivation and focus right now, which is what you need out here and that was evident here this week in Saudi.
“Funny, I played the first two rounds this week with Phil (Mickelson) and I had played with Phil at Pebble last year in the U.S. Open and I was taken aback how motivated he was, how much he still wants it out here. That’s the X factor you can’t define in a player.”
And there was another now over-40 old who McDowell drew inspiration and that was speaking earlier in his week in Saudi of the delight in seeing Lee Westwood, at age 46, win last month in Abu Dhabi and then getting a text message from Westwood on Saturday night in Saudi.
“Lee’s the kind of guy I look towards as we’re talking about a guy that it’s never gone away from him,” said McDowell.
“The guy is a winner, he won 44 times around the world, and he’s won in four different decades. That’s big and it’s inspiring to see these guys win in their 40s, guys that have been through it, done it, kind of looked like they were maybe coming into the sunset of their career, and then you win a big event.
“So, when he texted me last night, I was on the way back to the hotel leading by one, it was nice. It was a nice reinforcement. I kind of felt like he was in brackets saying, you know, I can do it, you can do it too, Mate, so go and win that thing. It’s nice for guys like that. Tommy Fleetwood, lots of great people texted me. Nice to be back up there.”
First reward for McDowell was a Euro 529,337 first prize cheque to take his European Tour earnings to just a few Euro short of Euro 21m and moves him into third on the Race to Dubai while his win has seen him move only to 23rd on the Ryder Cup points table.
His win has earned him a start in the February 20th commencing WGC – Mexico Championship and hopefully a first drive in April down Augusta National’s Magnolia Drive since 2016, where, in 10 Masters appearances, his best finish is T12th in 2012.
“I want another chance at a major championship on the back nine on a Sunday,” he said.
“It’s a lofty goal and there’s going to be a lot of steps between here and now, but this really gives me the kick-on that I need.
“It’s going to change my schedule the next few months I hope. I’m not sure if I get in México or Augusta at this point. I’m going to be close to it. But hopefully it will change my schedule a little bit and these are great problems to now face.”