'Deja vu' in McDowell's second comeback win
Thursday, February 20, 2014
MARANA, Ariz. – Live from the desert, a golf sequel to “The Year of Living Dangerously,” with Graeme McDowell, not Mel Gibson, playing the lead role.
“I was dead and buried, both days,” said McDowell, shaking his head, still trying to get his thoughts around what had just transpired in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship. By all respects, the man from Northern Ireland should have been packing his bags to head home. Instead, he’s on to the third round.
And when you do get it sorted out, please let McDowell how it all happened, because he was still in a daze. “I feel very, very, very fortunate to still be in this tournament.”
For a second straight match, McDowell spent the entire day trying to make up ground. Down two as late as the 14th hole to the young Japanese star, Hideki Matsuyama, McDowell rallied brilliantly – an 8-foot birdie at the 15th, a 12-footer for par to halve 16, then he jammed his approach to 4 feet to birdie 17 and square the match.
At 18, McDowell got it up-and-down from short of the green to save par; Matsuyama couldn’t do likewise from long. Just like that, the Northern Irishman was into the third round for the third time in the last four WGC-Accenture Match Play.
Did he have a minute to talk? McDowell smiled. He did, but first he had to catch his breath. “I haven’t left much out there emotionally,” said McDowell, who knew that everything had been stacked against him for two days.
• He had played a total of 37 holes and trailed for 33 of them.
• Only four times was he all square: at the beginning of the match Wednesday; at the beginning of the match Thursday; after 18 holes Wednesday; and after 17 holes Thursday.
• He’s had the lead for just two holes, both times when he won the final hole to take the match.
Having been 3 down through 15 Wednesday against Gary Woodland, McDowell won 16, 17, 18, and 19 to post a shocker. So when Matsuyama birdied the first and eagled the second to put the Northern Irishman 2 down, "I said to Kenny (Comboy, his caddie), ‘This is deja vu.’ " When McDowell managed to halve the third hole, he felt a small sense of victory.
He trailed by three through six, won the seventh and eighth, but he could not win any of the next five holes. Then, at the par-4 14th, McDowell made bogey to fall 2 down. Desperate, perhaps. But in no way was McDowell out, not after what he had experienced the day before.
“There was still a glimmer of hope today,” he said.
That glimmer of hope turned even brighter when McDowell played 15 with a birdie, 16 with a nifty par-save, and stuffed his wedge 147 yards to 4 feet to birdie 17. He had had to go the limit for a second straight day, he had had to come off the ropes, and sure, he had been bruised and battered a bit, but he had not been beaten. Others had breezed for two straight matches, but McDowell was staying positive; he was liking his progress better.
“Not from an emotional and energy point of view. I think to have done it under pressure and to have that belief that you can do it under pressure. I’m trying to relish it, trying to enjoy it.”
Of course, McDowell can’t enjoy it for too long, because he’ll be back at it Friday morning with a third-round match against Hunter Mahan.
Wait a minute. Hunter Mahan . . . Hunter Mahan . . . Hunter Mahan? Surely, McDowell has come across the American.
“I think we played together in a reasonably high profile match there a few years ago,” said McDowell with a smile, a reference to the final match at the 2010 Ryder Cup when McDowell defeated Mahan to decide the outcome in Europe’s favor. “So there’s a decent chance he might be out for a shade of revenge.”
For his part, Mahan said "I have no idea," when asked after his victory over Richard Sterne who he was playing in Round 3. Nor did it seem to matter to Mahan, who, unlike McDowell, has enjoyed two rather calm days. His 2-up battle against Sterne followed the opening 3 and 2 triumph over Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. In 34 holes, Mahan has led for 19 of them.
“I just have a good sense for these greens,” said Mahan, who ran his record to 16-4 in his five visits to the Golf Club at Dove Mountain. He won here in 2012, was runner-up to Matt Kuchar a year ago, and has made it to at least the third round four straight years here.
So, yes, he feels comfortable here, and likely Mahan will feel similarly come Friday morning. The hoopla over it being a match against McDowell? Mahan had long left the premises when that matchup had been determined, so one doesn’t know his sentiments. But McDowell might have been speaking for both of them.
“It’s been a long time,” said McDowell. “A lot of water under the bridge since 2010.”