McDowell returns to Chevron after dream year

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

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4/10/2014 - 4/13/2014

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Tiger Woods believes the turmoil in his personal life, no matter how much it cost him in money and marriage and mystique, made him a better person.

It did wonders for Graeme McDowell, too, in a way few could have imagined.

McDowell was on his way home from China a year ago when he was a last-minute alternate in the Chevron World Challenge for Woods, whose troubles were just starting. Little did McDowell know that his runner-up finish was the start of a life-changing year.

It was the first year the Chevron World Challenge awarded world ranking points. McDowell earned enough to narrowly be exempt for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he won by one shot for his first major.

That U.S. Open victory put him on the Ryder Cup team, and McDowell delivered the biggest putt of his life on the 16th hole of Celtic Manor in October to win the decisive match for Europe.

“If I don’t finish second at the Chevron here last year, perhaps I miss the U.S. Open, and perhaps I’m not sitting here right now after having a dream season,” McDowell said Wednesday. “It’s kind of weird how small things can shape a year. And I feel very fortunate to be here last year.”

He will get back to Northern Ireland for the holidays later this month, and maybe then he will finally have a chance to reflect on a year that will be hard to top – a major champion and Ryder Cup hero.

For now, he has a few tournaments left in his dream season, starting with the one that got him started.

McDowell is part of an 18-man field that tees off Thursday at Sherwood Country Club, a tournament that used to be a Christmas bonus for the elite few that were invited to Woods’ event.

It is much stronger now, with a $5 million purse and world ranking points giving it credibility. The field is stronger than the Dubai World Championship last week that ended the European Tour season.

There are enough points that Woods has a chance to regain his No. 1 ranking from Lee Westwood, who is playing in South Africa against a tough field. He would have to win the Chevron World Challenge and have Westwood finish out of the top two to regain the No. 1 ranking.

The odds of that happening are not great based on recent history. Woods has only three top 10s this year, including a fourth-place finish in the Australian Masters last month.

He was hitting the ball better than he has all year Wednesday in the pro-am, enough to get the attention of his caddie, Steve Williams, who noticed big strides since they last played Down Under.

Woods also has stuck with the Nike putter he used in Australia, with the shaft in the heel to help him release the blade through the ball. He made it sound as though he was ditching the putter that brought him 13 majors.

“It’s permanent for this week,” he said.

Woods has not lost at his tournament since 2005, although he didn’t play the last two years. Jim Furyk won at Sherwood last year, and he likely will replace Woods as the PGA Tour player of the year when the voting outcome is announced this weekend.

The field also includes Dustin Johnson, who won twice and played in the final group at two majors; and multiple PGA Tour winners Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan.

For all of them, it’s gravy. There’s no cut, and last place pays $140,000.

Everything feels that way for McDowell at the moment.

“At some point this month I’ll sit down and reflect on what’s been a life-changing season,” McDowell said. “I really haven’t had a lot of chances, especially since the Ryder Cup, to think about what I’ve achieve this year.”

After winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he said it took more than a month to get his head around what he had done. And then came the Ryder Cup, and that 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, running into the arms of his teammates, the European celebration.

“It’s been a whirlwind ride, and it’s been certainly something I’ll be trying to reflect on and enjoy, and obviously to look to build on it moving into next year,” McDowell said.

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