2004: McDowell reigns after long dry spell

Milan, Italy

It was five days filled with rain, darkness, delays, uncertainty and schedule disruption. But when it was done, the logistical difficulties mattered little to Graeme McDowell.

The Northern Irishman came back to Castello di Tolcinasco for an extra day May 3 and made the headaches worthwhile when he beat Frenchman Thomas Levet on the fourth hole of a Monday playoff. The Italian Open, shortened to 54 holes because of weather woes, actually went 58.

Levet had two holes to complete Monday morning, and McDowell had four. They each shot 65 in the final round, and each finished regulation play at 19-under 197. The pair began the playoff by making par on the 18th twice, then each made birdie on No. 17. The tournament was decided when Levet ran into trouble at the fourth extra hole (No. 18). McDowell made par again at the 18th to seal the victory.

“I had a little 6-iron on the last and hit it fat into the lake,” Levet said. “It just seems when I play well, someone else does as well.”

Gregory Havret, a Frenchman who won the 2001 Italian Open, finished third at 18 under and Argentina’s Angel Cabrera was fourth at 17 under.

It was McDowell’s second PGA European Tour triumph and his first since winning the 2002 Scandinavian Masters two months after turning professional.

“Looking back and knowing what I now know and feeling how much better my game is, it makes me feel like I was an amateur then,” McDowell said. “I have had two years grinding out here and it is a different world.”

McDowell earned 200,000 euros (approximately $240,000) and continued a season that promises to

be his best. After winning the 2002 Scandinavian Masters, McDowell went without another top-10 finish until the 2004 Madeira Island Open, where he tied for seventh. He followed with a tie for third the next week at the Portugal Open. Three tournaments later came his victory in Italy.

“I’ve worked hard for this one,” McDowell said. “This feels so much better than Sweden.”

McDowell’s 2004 campaign shows signs that he is living up to the expectations that so many placed on

him after stellar college and amateur campaigns.

McDowell was Golfweek’s College Player of the Year in 2002 after he put together a senior season at University of Alabama-Birmingham that included six victories in 12 events and a record-breaking stroke average of 69.6. He also played a prominent role in Great Britain and Ireland’s retention of the Walker Cup in 2001 at Sea Island, Ga.

“I am a very happy man,” McDowell said. “My game is where I want it, right now.”

– Staff and wire reports

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