Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge turned into one of the biggest days in golf of the year. Strangely, it was during golf’s “silly season” at an unofficial limited-field event.
Just about everyone was ready to hand Tiger Woods the trophy going into the final round. After all, Tiger had never blown a four-shot lead in his career. The world’s number two started shaky, three-putting two of the first three holes. But the day — or heck, the year — belonged to Graeme McDowell, who stared down Tiger and made two massive 20-footers on him to win.
On the final hole in regulation, Tiger knocked his approach to tap-in range. His caddie Stevie Williams had already taken off his bib, expecting McDowell to miss. After all, no one sinks big clutch putts on Tiger. But the US Open champion, who has proven to make the big ones when they mattered, is arguably golf’s Mr. Clutch.
On the first hole in sudden death, G-Mac drained another bomb to become only the second player to beat Tiger in a playoff in history. Afterward, McDowell admitted to being nervous, but also said he sensed an opportunity to take control of the tournament. Say what? In another era, that was virtually unheard of (notwithstanding Y.E. Yang beating Tiger at the ’09 PGA Championship).
For McDowell, it was a dream year that had come full circle, starting with Tiger withdrawing from the Chevron after he plowed his Escalade into just about every stationary object outside his driveway. McDowell was a last-minute alternate last season when Tiger’s troubles were just beginning. He took advantage of the opportunity and finished second.
With the Chevron awarding world ranking points for the first time in ’09, McDowell earned just enough to secure an exemption to the US Open, which as you know, he won by a stroke. And that major victory clinched him a spot on the Ryder Cup team, where he made the biggest putt of his life on the 16th hole to capture the win.
Then a year later, back at the Chevron, McDowell did to Tiger what we’ve seen Tiger do to so many others over the years — he drained a putt to stick a dagger through Tiger’s heart.
“You know, they’re the kind of putts that you make them and you can’t really believe it afterward,” said McDowell. “I mean, they were the stuff of dreams. 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It’s been that kind of year. Not quite sure why.”
Though G-Mac had a few hiccups coming down the stretch, he sure didn’t look nervous standing over those final putts.
“I was pretty nervous on the back nine, I have to say. Like I say, when you play alongside Tiger on a Sunday afternoon, you’re expecting great things from him. I was a little nervous.
“It’s been an amazing season. I put that up there, you know, to play with him this weekend and to do it against him, it’s definitely another highlight of 2010.”
Meanwhile, Tiger has famously always said, “Second place sucks.” But interestingly enough, his words had a different tune to them post-loss on Sunday.
“It was a great week, even though I didn’t win,” said Tiger. “Today was — I’m proud of today even though I lost, because I putted awful of starting out. I missed three short putts, which I don’t do.
“Then I lost my swing in the middle part of the round, and pieced it back together again piece by piece. I was proud of that. I was very committed coming in, and hit some really, really good shots coming in, which was good.”
Tiger’s Sunday was also a fitting way to end his year — he’s still winless, but he’s proved that he’s got the game to stage a comeback. And well, Tiger is human. Actually, it’s exciting for golf fans because we don’t know whether he’s going to win or lose on Sunday with the lead anymore. I’m not sure which would have made the better story, either. But if the Chevron is any indication of what we should see in 2011, then I’m looking forward to a season that’s right around the corner.
“At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we all make mistakes and we all hit bad golf shots,” said McDowell. “But there’s something a bit special about (Tiger’s) golf game, and I fully expect that mystique to return as the golf clubs start doing the talking again.”
(AP Photos/Gus Ruelas)