Sunday, 16 March 2008

Graeme McDowell capped an extraordinary final round at the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship with a thrilling sudden-death play-off victory on the third extra hole over Jeev Milkha Singh at the Pinx Golf Club.

After both players had traded blows in posting matching final rounds of four under par 68 for quite astonishing 24 under par 264 totals, they went back to the 18th tee three times before McDowell produced one of the shots of his career, a sublime seven iron from 179 yards to within a foot of the cup to set up a title clinching birdie.

Given that Singh had turned up the pressure on McDowell by hitting his own brilliant approach to six feet, the Northern Irishman’s response was out of this world. With Singh then missing his birdie chance, McDowell took aim and tapped his ball home to secure the title and the €333,330 top prize.

“That’s definitely up there with best shots I have ever hit, no doubt about it.  Yeah, no doubt, it's in my top five best shots ever hit under the gun.  In the play-off Jeev looked like he hit it pretty good.  I had a pretty similar yardage to what I had the second time around in the play-off.

“I had 177 yard the first time and I had 179 the second time, and I knew seven iron was obviously perfect.  And this time I just had to make sure I aimed right at the flag, and it came off perfect I have to say. 

“It's a great feeling right now.  There have been a lot of changes going on the last couple years, coming out this year with a new equipment contract with Callaway, new golf ball, the Tour IX golf ball, it's nice to win early in my Callaway golf career and it's a Ryder Cup year obviously so I'm massively happy at this point to have chalked a win up early in the season.”

Singh was obviously disappointed to lose out, but was magnanimous in victory. He can console himself with the knowledge that his second place finish has secured him entry into this week’s WGC – CA Championship along with McDowell.

Both men needed to finish in the upper echelons of the leaderboard to win a place at the Doral Golf and Spa Resort this week.

“It was a disappointing finish but I enjoyed the week,” said Singh. “Obviously you play to win but somebody has to win.  McDowell played really good.  The last hole he hit a great shot in there after I hit a good shot, and I think the best man won.

“Going to Doral next week will be great, and I gave it a good effort this week.  I would like to congratulate Graeme for playing excellent golf, and I am looking forward to Doral because I'm playing well  - maybe there's something better waiting for me there.”

Given the nature of their battle over the last two days of the tournament (between them playing the last 36 holes in 26 under par) , it was somewhat fitting that the tournament would go into extra time. Both men deserved to win the title, but the nature of the game dictates that there could be only one, and with that, McDowell and Singh went back to the 18th tee to determine a winner.

Singh got the ball rolling, driving his ball into the semi rough on the right hand side of the fairway. McDowell also found the semi, on the left, but both men were in range as they tried to close out their first victory of the 2008 season.

McDowell arrived at his ball to find a prickly lie, but he ignored the surroundings to produce a brilliant approach that forced its way to within 18 feet of the cup. Singh left himself a longer putt, but made his two putt par with ease, with McDowell matching him.

Another halved hole saw them return to the 18th tee for what would be the third and final time. Singh looked the favourite to win when he landed his second shot just six feet from the pin but McDowell turned the tables with that sensational seven iron, a shot that would be worthy of any tournament.

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