McDowell: 'Very fortunate to have escaped' at Match Play
MARANA, Ariz. – There are no guarantees in golf, if we hadn’t known that before. Nothing is certain, particularly in 18-hole match play, even when you are 3 down with three holes left and your opponent sends an approach shot toward the pin.
That was Graeme McDowell’s predicament in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. His long-hitting Orlando neighbor, Gary Woodland, was sailing toward victory at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, what with six birdies in the first 15 holes and that 3-up lead and that beautiful looking 6-iron on the par-3 16th that was flag hunting.
“A somber situation,” McDowell said. “The Cadillacs (that take players to the clubhouse) were circling. I could see (agent) Colin (Morrissey) on the phone. I thought, right, hopefully he’s got me a flight booked anyway.”
PHOTOS: WGC Match Play 2014
Check out photos from the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.
But a strange thing happened during that mental trip to the airport. Woodland’s ball landed 8-10 feet behind the hole and bounced over the green. Then he chipped short and bogeyed and slipped to 2 up. McDowell looked over and noticed that Woodland “looked like he got a little nervous at that point.”
McDowell would slice the margin in half when making a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-4 17th. And he would pull all square with a conceded birdie at 18 when Woodland took four shots to reach the green after finding two greenside bunkers.
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“All of a sudden I’m feeling very, very fortunate about life,” the Ulsterman said.
He would feel moreso that way a few minutes later when he won the match with a 6-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. That would cap the most dramatic comeback on opening day of the match-play event that features the top 64 players in the world who commit.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all,” McDowell muttered afterward. “I feel very fortunate to have escaped. ... I thought it was over.”
He would express relief, gratitude and class, the latter when saying Woodland played beautifully and is a “great, great player” who will have a big year.
The two are good friends. They live on the same street in the Lake Nona development in Orlando. They practiced together there most of last week and on the weekend. They flew to Tucson on the same airplane Sunday. And then they played each other in the wildest of the first-round matches.
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion making his second appearance of the year, found himself 4 down through eight holes despite having made four birdies. Problem was, he also had made two bogeys and Woodland five birdies by then.
After McDowell went 4 down on the seventh, his caddie, Ken Comboy, told him, “It would be a pretty interesting story if you win this thing.” Later, McDowell would say Comboy was just “trying to say anything to me, because we were just getting beaten up.”
But golf has 18 holes – not seven or eight or 15. And when the tide turned, so did the moods. While McDowell talked happily afterward with a group of reporters, the normally affable Woodland, understandably deflated, walked by with his head down on his way to the clubhouse.
“I’m sure he’s extremely disappointed right now,” McDowell said. “And I’m extremely elated. It’s one of those surprises. I’m surprised to be sitting here, having won.”