Graeme McDowell yesterday won the Alstom Open de France to claim his third title of “a funny year” that has brought either a missed cut or a victory in each of his last eight events.
McDowell carded a closing 67 at Le Golf National to finish nine under par, four clear of South Africa’s Richard Sterne, who had been only one behind until bogeys at the 16th and 17th.
Sterne eventually did well to par the 18th for a final round of 71 to make sure of outright second, with 2007 winner Graeme Storm and Spain’s Eduardo de la Riva a shot behind.
McDowell missed the cut in last week’s Irish Open, but reaped the rewards of staying on at Carton House over the weekend to work on his game, the first prize of £430,000 taking him less than £30,000 behind US Open champion Justin Rose at the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
It should also lift McDowell from ninth to sixth when the world rankings are updated tomorrow, with the Open Championship at Muirfield just around the corner.
“It’s very special after the last couple of months,” McDowell admitted.
“It’s been a bit of a battle. It’s been a funny year. My game has not felt far away most weeks, but I have missed a lot more cuts than normal and missing cuts hurts.
“It certainly motivated me a lot the last few weeks. The US Open was a tough one to take and missing the cut in Ireland last week; it made me more hungry to want to be in positions like I was this afternoon.”
The 33-year-old began the day tied with Sterne and made the perfect start with a birdie from 15ft at the opening hole, but Sterne responded with a two-putt birdie on the par-five third, where McDowell was lucky not to find a water hazard with his drive.
Both players then birdied the fifth before a poor drive cost McDowell a bogey on the seventh, while the par-five ninth produced matching birdies for the final group from a greenside bunker.
McDowell was quick to get back on level terms at the start of the back nine, holing from nine feet for a birdie on the 10th, and then reclaimed the lead when Sterne dropped his first shot of the day on the 12th after driving into heavy rough.
Sterne looked certain to bogey the next as well after committing the cardinal sin of taking an iron for safety only to push his tee shot into a water hazard, but after taking a penalty drop, he hit his third shot to 20ft and holed for an unlikely par.
Luck certainly appeared to be on McDowell’s side as he pulled his tee shot on the 16th, but saw the ball take a fortunate bounce away from the heavy rough and kick 90 degrees right.
That left him with a relatively simple up and down, but he needed more good fortune after pulling his par putt and the sheepish grin after it somehow found the left edge of the hole told its own story.
Sterne had called for a “G-Mac bounce” after also pulling his tee shot, but was not so fortunate and a bogey four gave McDowell a two-shot lead with two to play, the Northern Irishman then making certain of victory with a superb birdie on the 17th.
“This is such a difficult course here. We may have one of the greatest Ryder Cup venues in European golf history in 2018,” McDowell added. “Anyone watching this week will get a sense for the match play drama this course is going to provide.
“I was thinking of the 18th hole all day and it was nice to have that cushion coming in. I got a little lucky coming in. I didn’t hit my best putt on 15 or 16 and they went in. I struggled on the greens all week and didn’t make many putts, but only making four bogeys all week was the key.”