Graeme McDowell brilliantly ended a more than four-year winless drought in capturing the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic.
McDowell came from one shot behind with two holes to play to post a closing three-under par 69 and despite what was a tap-in bogey at the last, he won by a stroke with an 18-under par tally in very hot conditions on the Caribbean Island. The win is McDowell’s fourth PGA Tour triumph and a 15th win worldwide but of more importance, it is a first since November 2015 when he captured the Mayakoba Championship in Mexico. Unfortunately, the small $US3m prize purse does not qualify McDowell for next week’s Master but the great news is GMac has got himself a two-year Tour exemption after so much uncertainty over his future on the fairways of late.
“It’s difficult to win on the PGA Tour and I don’t know about calling this event a second tier event but clearly the best players in the world are in Austin, Texas this week,” said McDowell.
“But still, there was a great field down here and I said on Wednesday, I was here on a mission and I was here motivated and that attitude was going to be very, very important this week.
“I got off to a kind of slow start and I found my groove on Friday and Saturday especially on the greens.”Today, I got off to a dream start and to be honest I thought I could put some distance between me and the field but Chris Stroud played really well and my putter went a little cold.
“This one is a pretty sweet victory. It feels a bit like the victory at Mayakoba in ’15 and it comes at the end of a long grind.
“This win has been coming and I feel like I have been playing pretty well for the last 12 months but I have not been turning my good weeks into big weeks and that’s been the big key, and that’s what you have to do on the PGA Tour and that’s what you have to do get yourself up in the FedEx Cup points.
“This win is going to go a long way to getting me back to where I want to be in the game. That is the mission at the minute – to get myself back in the top-100, the top-50 in the world and competing on a week-to-week basis against the best players in the world.”
For a third day in succession, McDowell raced to be four-under after seven holes but a bogey from a greenside bunker at the par-3 ninth checked his progress as he headed into the ‘business end’ of the $US3m event.
The birdies then dried-up on the Caribbean Island with McDowell stalled in the middle lane while those behind began to overtake.
First was Texan, Chris Stroud who had matched McDowell’s 64 on day three, with the American joining McDowell on 18-under par with a birdie on 14.Canadian McKenzie Hughes made it three atop the board when he birdied 15 moments after a birdie on 14.
Stroud, who was in the last group with McDowell, broke clear to 19-under par when he birdied 15 leaving McDowell and Hughes a shot behind with the trio fighting over the $US540,000 first prize.
But Stroud opened the victory door for McDowell in missing the green at the par-3 17th and taking a bogey ‘4’ while McDowell brilliantly landed his 9-iron tee shot to some five-feet and send his birdie putt to the bottom of the cup.
McDowell headed down the last a shot clear and despite both players taking bogeys 5s, GMac wasn’t about to complain as his one shot cushion saw him through in top spot.
McDowell headed into the final round staring at an unwanted Tour stat of having led four times after 54-holes in his career and failed to turn the previous three into wins. A better stat is that this success was his fourth PGA Tour win in his 215th Tour event.
The win also should see McDowell jump 120 spots on the World Rankings to just outside the top-130. A month ago, McDowell had nose-dived to World No. 259 with his prior lowest ranking being a lowly No. 634 in capturing a first pro victory at the 2002 Scandinavian Masters, a win that lifted him to No. 211 before reaching a career high of 4 early in 2011.
Where there was joy for Gmac, there was disappointment for Paul Dunne whose goal of finishing top-10 so that he would join McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Seamus Power later this week in Texas came up a shot shy.
Dunne cut a swath through the field on day one to share the lead thanks to a 66 but the birdies dried-up over the next three days in shooting scores of 69, 70 and 71.
The Greystones golfer was three-under on day four after seven holes to be inside the top-10 and on track to secure a place in Thursday’s starting Valero Texas Open.
However, Dunne’s San Antonio sights were spoilt by bogeys on 10 and 11 while he also dropped a shot at the 16th to fall back to 11-under when needing to finish at 13-under par.
Dunne did birdie the 17th but a par at the last in a round of 71 saw him finish in a six-way share of 12th place and one single shot shy of heading to Texas, where last year he claimed a top-10 to qualify for the Houston Open.
Seamus Power signed off with a two-under par 70 to sneak inside the top-50 in a share of 44th on a six-under total.