McDowell hangs on for Valderrama win

10/31/2010 3:47:59 PM
Graeme McDowell  (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)

Graeme McDowell held off the challenge of Gareth Maybin and Damien McGrane to claim a battling victory at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Sotogrande.

On a day where strong winds made low scoring extremely difficult, McDowell went round in 74 to finish on three under, two ahead of Maybin, McGrane and Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen.

Both Maybin and McGrane had been in contention for victory up until the closing holes, only to see their hopes dashed over Valderrama’s notoriously tough home stretch.

McDowell's victory - his seventh on the European Tour - lifts him into the top ten of the Official World Golf Rankings and he also closes the gap on Race to Dubai leader Martin Kaymer, who finished in a tie for 21st on seven over.

Kaymer’s failure to claim a top-two finish ensures fellow European Lee Westwood will displace Tiger Woods as World Number One when the latest rankings are released on Monday.

There will also be six Europeans in the top 10 - McDowell joining Westwood, Kaymer, Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy - in comparison to four Americans.

McDowell and Maybin had begun the day with a four-shot advantage at the top of the leaderboard, but it was McGrane who moved into pole position as the tournament moved towards its conclusion.

The 39 year old picked up birdies at three, seven, 11 and 15 to get to five under through 15 holes, with his solitary bogey coming at the ninth.

And with McDowell and Maybin slipping back to four and three under respectively, McGrane appeared the most likely to walk away with the €500,000 first prize.

Unfortunately, he then faltered, double bogeying 16 before dropping further shots at 17 and 18.

And with Maybin also finishing bogey-bogey, McDowell could afford to play the final hole with caution, coming up short of the green in two before taking three more shots to seal a wonderful win.

A delighted McDowell said: “It’s very special to win here and I draw a lot of comparisons with Pebble Beach (where he won the US Open Championship in June).

“It was a war of attrition and the last man standing really. Damien and Gareth are both grinders in their own right and I was just happy that I could eventually get the job done.”

The win adds to a sensational year for McDowell, who claimed victory at The Celtic Manor Wales Open prior to his US Open win and also holed the winning putt in Europe’s dramatic Ryder Cup win over the United States.

“It really has been a special season and I couldn’t imagine it would have gone the way it has,” he continued.

“But I didn’t want to rest on my laurels and just cruise to Dubai, I wanted to try and finish strong.”

Focusing on the Race to Dubai, he added: “I’m very excited. I’ve punched a bit of a hole in Martin’s lead and I’ll go to Shanghai now and look to give him a run for his money.”

Maybin declared himself pleased with the way he recovered from bogeys at the opening three holes to mount a challenge for the title.

“It’s probably one of the most enjoyable weeks that I’ve had,” said the 30 year old.

“To come up two shots shy was probably the right result but I’m very proud of how I bounced back and I’ll take a lot from that.”

By contrast, McGrane was left to bemoan a nightmare finish to his round.

“I had plenty of good fortune, but to hand it all away at the end was disappointing,” he said.

“I didn’t hit any bad shots, I just got fliers when I didn’t need them.

“I holed a decent putt on the last to give myself some satisfaction, but that’s Valderrama - when it bites, it bites hard.”

Kjeldsen equalled the lowest round of the day with an impressive 69 to move into a tie for second, with Holland’s Joost Luiten also going round in two under to share fifth with Thomas Björn.

José María Olazábal was the only other man to break par on Sunday, the veteran Spaniard carding four birdies in a 70 that lifted him into a tie for tenth on four over.

“I had a great time, and it’s been ages since I felt so good on a golf course,” said Olazábal.

“Physically I am not yet where I want to be, but mentally, this has been a great step forward.”