Magnificent McDowell secures final berth

19/05/2013 08:22:00
Graeme McDowell  (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)

A stunning display of golf from Graeme McDowell – which featured no less than eight birdies – saw the Northern Irishman march into the Volvo World Match Play Championship final in Bulgaria at the expense of Branden Grace.

McDowell was a beaten finalist in this event in 2012 as Nicolas Colsaerts prevailed, but having seen off the big-hitting Belgian in the quarter-finals on Saturday the 33 year old has a chance to go one better against Thongchai Jaidee on Sunday afternoon.

With conditions absolutely perfect on at the spectacular Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort in Kavarna for the culmination of the 48th World Match Play, McDowell’s day began in purposeful fashion with a tap-in birdie at the first, a start that set the tone for what was a high quality and engaging encounter.

Further gains followed for the 2010 US Open Champion at the third and fifth holes to quickly move three up and despite rallies from Grace at the sixth and 11th holes seeing the deficit reduced to one hole, a determined McDowell closed out with four birdies in five holes from the 12th to progress 3&2 and in some style.

After speaking on Saturday evening of his desire to join the “icons of The European Tour” in capturing the World Match Play Championship, a purposeful McDowell looked in complete control throughout the clash and never came close to trailing the 24 year old from George in South Africa.

And McDowell looked inspired indeed during the the last-four tie, quickly moving into a commanding lead over Grace thanks to some majestic all-round play.

McDowell is undefeated this week as the revered contest celebrates its 50th year, having topped the Seve Ballesteros group with a 100 per cent record, and he showed some short game mastery that the late, great Spaniard would have been proud in the early stages of the match.

On a stunning morning on the Black Sea coastal resort, with almost a flat calm, the Portrush man played a fine approach to three feet at the first for a birdie and a one hole lead over the slightly nervy-looking Grace, while McDowell was only millimetres away from doubling that lead at the short second.

The Ryder Cup star drained an 18-foot birdie putt at the third, though, to move two up before some classic match play at the long fifth. Having already given Grace his birdie after the 24 year old fired his third in close, McDowell managed an unlikely half as he rolled in his putt from off the back of the green to maintain the lead.

That lead was extended to three with a third birdie in succession at the following par five, before Grace bounced back with a gain of his own at the par four sixth to reduce the deficit to two once more.

Following that frantic and birdie-ridden opening, the consecutive par three seventh and eighth holes were halved in par, before a good up and down for par from Grace at the ninth kept the four-time European Tour champion within touching distance of McDowell as the tie reached its midway point.

After the tenth was halved in par, Grace reduced the gap to one hole as a 20-foot birdie putt dropped at the 11th while McDowell's effort - from substantially closer - stayed out as the Northern Irishman's putter seemed to run a little cold.

Unfazed, McDowell played an excellent second into the par five 12th to set up a very makeable eagle putt, but a gritty Grace again got up and down from right of the green while another frustrating missed putt for McDowell meant a half in birdie.

McDowell reflected on Saturday on the need to push on on the back nine, having dominated on the front throughout the tournament, and he made good on that promise with birdie on the 13th before a seventh birdie of the day at the 15th put the seven-time European Tour champion three up with three to play.

Despite Grace making another superb up and down from right of the 16th green for a gimme birdie – remarkably his own fifth sub-par score of what was undoubtedly tie littered with top-class play from both men – McDowell matched his opponent’s score in two putts to secure a final berth against the in-form Jaidee and a shot at the €800,000 cheque - and trophy he so dearly covets.

McDowell said: “When you get to this point of the tournament, especially when conditions are like they were this morning - just absolutely perfect - and when you're playing a guy like Branden Grace you have to play well.  

“I played solidly today and hit a lot of quality shots. My swing felt tighter and more together than it was yesterday and I putted better by the day and had to make some putts today. Branden hung in there tough - he was a tough guy to beat and thankfully I was able to get the job done.” 

Speaking about the prospect of facing Jaidee, McDowell added: “I have played with him many, many times in the past, great little player, great attitude for the sport.  

“He's going to be a tough guy to shake off. He plays the game very similar to myself, fairways and greens, good short iron player, good putter. He's got the right kind of game for match play, so I'm expecting a tough game.”