Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell came from behind to beat Thongchai Jaidee 2 and 1 and win the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria.
Last year’s runner-up had got off to a string of fast starts en route to the final, but found himself two down after four to the resilient Jaidee and took seven holes to register a win.
Still one down at the turn, a run of three wins in four holes from the 12th gave the Northern Irishman the €800,000 winner’s cheque and one of the most prestigious titles on The European Tour.
“Obviously a nice day and a great trophy,” said McDowell. “I talked about it all week about the prestige of this event and how many great champions, and nice to add my name to that list of legends.
“We talked a lot about what Volvo have done with this event, what they have done with golf around the world and coming to Bulgaria this week obviously was a brave move, but I think it's paid off.
“Sitting here with the trophy I'm going to say great things about the place but I think if you talk to all the players, I think everyone enjoyed themselves, everyone enjoyed the golf course.”
Jaidee had the consolation of €400,000 as runner-up, but could be forgiven for wondering how his name had not joined the distinguished list of winners on the trophy which includes the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sir Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.
In perfect conditions at a sun-drenched Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, it was 43 year old Thai Jaidee who won the second from 25 feet, having salvaged a half at the first despite driving into a bunker.
Five-time European Tour winner Jaidee, having seen off Thomas Aiken in the morning’s semi-finals, doubled his advantage at the long fourth when McDowell missed a ten foot birdie putt and the World Number 63 converted from half that distance.
Former US Open Champion McDowell had beaten Branden Grace in his semi-final and was looking to atone for his defeat to Nicolas Colsaerts at the same stage last year.
But the World Number Eight was lucky not to go three down at the par five fifth when his approach went into an unplayable patch of rough and he had to salvage par from 12 feet, with Jaidee missing his birdie effort from six feet.
A hole finally went McDowell’s way when he birdied the short seventh from six feet, and the next four were halved with pars – although Jaidee had a chance from six feet at the eighth and McDowell had to hole lengthy par putts at the ninth and tenth.
Only McDowell was able to birdie the long 12th and so the contest went into the closing stretch all square again, although the momentum had clearly shifted.
McDowell won the 14th with a par after Jaidee drove into a bush and had to play out sideways, and as a result led the final for the first time, before taking the 15th after a brilliant approach to five feet and paring the next two for victory.
“It was a little bit more tentative this afternoon,” added McDowell, who won the RBC Heritage on the US PGA Tour last month. “It was tough to keep that level of golf up all weekend, and the key putts really this afternoon were with the par saves on nine and ten - they were massive.
“I sensed from Thongchai after that that he was starting to fatigue a little bit; I really sensed a bit of an opening. I just had to hit the shots and I did that well coming down the stretch. The mistake he made on 14 and then the birdie I made on 15 was really the telling stuff.
“Like I say, it’s great to put my name on the trophy. I'm looking across to see Montgomerie and Westwood just popping off the trophy at me, great European Tour legends, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, the history of this event, it's fantastic.
“This feels really, really like a special win. I'm sure Volvo are going to work hard to take this tournament from strength to strength and get it back as one of the premiere events, one of the special events on The European Tour season, which it needs to be.
“Els, Montgomerie, Westwood, Ballesteros, Norman, Lyle, Faldo, Player, Palmer, it's just crazy stuff really. To thrust yourself into that - to have your name on a trophy this cool is pretty special.
“I'll drink a couple of cold ones tonight and enjoy this. This is a special moment in my career, no doubt about it. Wins are super special - two in five weeks, that's great. I'm feeling pretty good right now.”