In a playoff between two U.S. Open champs, Graeme McDowell beat Webb Simpson in the first extra hole, the par-4 18th, to claim the tartan jacket at the RBC Heritage.
While Webb missed just right of the pin, G-Mac went flag hunting and left himself an uphill 12-footer for birdie. He had a similar putt for par in regulation, but he left it short to post his first bogey of the day, which is pretty incredible considering the tough conditions on Sunday at Harbour Town Golf Links, with strong winds, including gusts up to 41 mph.
Webb putted from the fringe and his putt just burned the edge. It appeared like the ball was going to stop a foot or two past the hole, but a gust of wind blew it to about seven feet. G-Mac left his birdie putt short, but tapped in comfortably for par, while Webb’s putt to extend the playoff burned the edge again.
“I didn’t hit a bad second shot,” said Simpson in his post-playoff presser. “I just pushed it a hair, but that’s where you got to miss it. In a moment like that I never thought I made a putt more than that birdie putt. It was in. I mean with a foot to go, it was in the left side, and like Graeme, like every other player faced today, a gust came, and it was probably going to roll by about a foot but the gust moved it to seven feet.
“And I tell you what, coming back, that was a hard putt, because by the grain and the wind it’s supposed to break, but the regulation putt didn’t break, so I was kind of stuck with, what do I do? I tried to play it left center, and it broke. I don’t know if I started it right on line.”
Not many players turn it a notch up when the pressure heightens, but McDowell is definitely one of them, which makes it hard to believe that this is only his second official PGA Tour victory and his first in the States since the 2010 U.S. Open. However, he pointed out it’s his first win as a PGA Tour member.
“I’m going to call this my first defensive PGA Tour win,” said G-Mac. “The U.S. Open was a special victory, but I wasn’t a PGA Tour member. This is my first PGA Tour victory as a member.”
G-Mac, who started the day four shots back, needed the wind to blow in order to catch the leaders. He certainly got his wish.
“The weather was kind of what the doctor ordered for me today,” said McDowell, a native of Northern Ireland, in his post-round presser. “I needed an opportunity to get close to these leaders. I’m not saying that I didn’t have any God-given advantage in the wind, but I needed the golf course to play difficult…
“It was really, really difficult. Very gusty wind conditions. You really had to pick your moment, pick your shot. The key today was a few big par saves early on.”
McDowell emphasized his good instincts and fluid routine in the gusty conditions.
“Very often you’re standing over the shots and you hear the gusts coming,” he said. “And you really have to be accepting. You really just have to play on some instincts out there. I jsut made a decision to try to get into the ball and just hit my shot and try not to get too distracted by what’s going on.
“It took me longer than others to get in the ball. I stood there a few times early on the front nine, thinking to myself, I’ve got to hit this ball at some point as these gusts were ripping through. And other times you’re jumping in there quick. You’ve got a lull in the wind, right. I’ve got to go in there and hit this thing quick.”
He stayed mentally tough and got the job done.
While he was warming up on the driving range, McDowell and his caddie decided getting to nine-under would be enough to win. He was almost right.
“Oddly, we picked nine (under) on the range this morning,” said G-Mac. “I just hoped I was the guy on 9. We said if we could get to nine-under, we had a great chance to win.
“I executed my game plan great today. The stars have to align, though. And you never wish any ill on guys, you just have to play your game and see what happens.”
Oh, and for Orlando-area residents, Graeme’s restaurant/bar is open for business. Drinks on G-Mac at Nona Blue! I think.
Webb credited his wife for helping him get back into contention after the two had talked throughout the week about his confidence.
“Normally my best attribute is my mind, and my mind, I feel, is what’s been holding me back this year,” said Simpson, who shot an even-par 70. “And (my wife and I) were trying to dive into why I don’t feel like I’m playing free and with confidence.
“So every time I play with a good junior player, 14 and under, they don’t do anything out of the ordinary, all they see is the shot they’re trying to hit. I just try to play more like a kid, and just drew on past experiences on when I used to play when I was younger.”
Luke Donald made an early run at Harbour Town, rolling in four birdies on the front nine. Donald, one of the best putters on the planet, missed an eight-footer for par on No. 10 and three-putted for bogey, but he bounced back with a birdie on No. 11.
What slowed Donald down from catching the leaders was a bogey on the par-5 15th, which was playing straight into the wind.
“The only real mistake I felt I made was the drive on 15,” he said after securing his second top-10 finish of the season and fourth top-3 at The Heritage. “On 13 I thought I hit a good shot. Then on 10, I’m this close to making birdie.
“It was nice to get off to the great start like I did. I played so solid that front nine and gave myself a lot of opportunities and I can take a lot of positives out of that.”
Considering the tough conditions with the wind howling, including gusts up to 40-45 mph, Donald was pleased with shooting two-under 69, seven-under for the week.
“Extremely difficult,” said Luke when asked to describe the conditions. “Strong wind I’ve played in all year. Whipping around through the trees, as well. A lot of times you have to back off.
“It played tough. The back nine played especially tougher than the front. A lot of holes into the wind and crosswinds on the back nine. But I played a very solid round. And to have five birdies out there was pretty good.”
Donald added that Sunday’s final round was one of the windiest rounds he’s experienced in his career.
“I’ve played some links golf, which is pretty windy, but this was gusting pretty hard,” he said. “We’re fortunate that it’s reasonably tree lined on most holes, so you get a bit of a buffer. That drive on 15 couldn’t have gone more than 240, it was a pretty strong wind.”
When Luke had signed his scorecard, the leaders were at nine-under and had five holes left to play. Asked if he was going to wait around to see if he might end up in a playoff, he said, “I’ll keep an eye on it a little bit.”
If he had made his birdie putt on No. 18, he would have watched more closely, but at the time, there were four players ahead of him and the likelihood they’d all fall back was slim.
*Playing with the 54-hole lead for the first time in his career, Charley Hoffman hung in there for most of the day before he imploded with a double-bogey on the par-3 No. 14. From there, he made two more bogeys and shot 40 on the back nine for a final round six-over 77. He finished tied for sixth.
*Of the players who finished in the top 10 at the Masters, Marc Leishman, who finished tied for fourth last week, was the only one to follow it up with another top 10 at the RBC Heritage, placing tied for ninth. Jason Day (3rd Masters/T30 Heritage); Brandt Snedeker (T6/T59); Matt Kuchar (T8/T35).
*Earlier this week, James Driscoll announced his “Birdies for Boston” initiative, with proceeds going to the One Fund Boston. Driscoll will donate $1,000 for each birdie he makes in competition at the Heritage and Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He made nine birdies in three rounds at Harbour Town.
*19-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is a PGA Tour Special Temporary Member, earned his third top-ten of the year, placing tied for ninth at the Heritage. Not too shabby for a kid who can’t even drink legally yet!
*No bogey-free rounds on Sunday. No surprise.
(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)