Graeme McDowell snatches title from under Woods' nose to cap a dream season

GRAEME McDowell wasn't even born when California Dreamin' was released in the 1960s, but the popular song by The Mamas & The Papas has surely been added to the playlist on his ipod this year.

• McDowell, trophy in hand Picture: Getty

Five months after claiming a first major in the US Open at Pebble Beach, the 31-year-old Northern Irishman enjoyed another memorable moment in the Golden State, overturning a four-shot deficit on Tiger Woods, the tournament host, heading into the final round to win the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club.

It was McDowell's fourth victory of the year, taking him to a career-best seventh in the world rankings. Add in his heroics when clinching Europe's dramatic Ryder Cup victory in Wales and it wouldn't be stretching things to suggest he might be receiving a call from a Hollywood producer in the near future.

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"Obviously the script this year has been pretty amazing," he admitted after a closing 69 for a 16-under-par total of 272. "I've had a dream season. I feel like I earned my stripes a little bit and I felt like a year like this one has been coming. I didn't quite foresee it being this amazing. But I really I felt like I had some big golf in me this year and it's been amazing to be able to do it."

What McDowell, the 2008 Barclays Scottish Open champion, did on Sunday in Thousand Oaks, just north of Los Angeles, was pull off the biggest comeback ever against Woods and, in keeping with the rest of his year, the man from Portrush displayed the sort of inner resolve that was once the trademark of the player he pipped for a $1.2 million top prize.

Woods, seeking his first win in 13 months and the boost he wanted so badly at the end of his annus horribilis, lost his big overnight lead with a pair of three-putt bogeys, imploded with a double-bogey 7 on the long 13th to see his one-shot lead turn into a two-shot deficit, then got a lifeline when McDowell made a couple of mistakes down the stretch.

At the par-3 17th, he overcooked a draw with his 8-iron and found an unplayable lie in deep grass at the back of the green. Deep to the extent that going back to the tee looked to be a sensible option, but McDowell and his caddie, Ken Comboy, showed exactly why they've become such a successful partnership by coming up with a better alternative.

He took a drop up on the 18th tee and, though that left a tricky pitch over a tee, McDowell used the contours of the green to absolute perfection, hitting what was his third shot to seven feet and rolling in the putt to stay even with Woods going to the final hole.

And what a final hole that proved to be. Playing his second shot first, Woods delivered a moment of magic, hitting an 8-iron to three feet. He must have thought that had sealed the deal, especially after McDowell pulled his approach a touch and was left with a 20-footer that had a yard of break in it.

But not only did McDowell hole that one to force a play-off, he repeated the feat from almost exactly the same spot around 20 minutes later at the first extra hole to cap his greatest season in stunning fashion.

"Those are probably two of the greatest putts I've made. I've holed a couple of nice putts this year, but they were certainly up there," he added. "They're the kind of putts that you make and you can't really believe it afterwards. They were the stuff of dreams - 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It's been that kind of year."

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It's a year that was shaped on the Sunday at Pebble Beach, where McDowell held his game together under the most pressure he's faced to become the first European to win the US Open in 40 years. He showed bottle, too, when clinching the point Europe needed to regain the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, scene of the first of those aforementioned successes in the Wales Open earlier in the year.

Despite giving it his all - he won the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama as part of an exhausting run of playing five weeks in a row in Europe, the Far East and the Middle East - McDowell was pipped in the end by Martin Kaymer for the European No 1 spot, but that won't be too much of a disappointment for him in the grand scheme of things.

The Chevron World Challenge may be an unofficial event but, a year after finishing runner-up in it after only getting an invite when the host went into hiding after his personal life fell apart, McDowell used the tournament to show he can not only face up to Woods, he can beat him down the stretch.

"It's a pretty special feeling to go out there four back and do the job - it's definitely another highlight of 2010," said McDowell. "[Feeling like a] deer in headlights comes to mind when I think about the first time I played with Tiger in 2002. It was my first four or five months on Tour, so I was intimidated by most things.

"You've got to acclimatise and this was a really good workout for me for the next time I'm in a weekend tussle with him. I've pulled a lot of experience from this and I'll be able to use that next time I play with him.

"I'm very proud of myself the way I've applied myself the last six weeks. It would have been pretty easy just to kick back with the great things I've achieved this year. But to finish as strong as I have and to win twice in the last six weeks is pleasing as well."

McDowell's season isn't finished yet. He's joining forces with Darren Clarke in this week's Shark Shootout in Florida before heading back to Britain to see if he's done enough to become BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Grand National-winning jockey Tony McCoy is the favourite but he'll surely face tough competition from McDowell and Lee Westwood, who rubber-stamped his world No 1 position with an impressive eight-shot win in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa on Sunday.

Add in Kaymer, the USPGA champion, for the European Tour Player of the Year Award and that is going to be a tough one to call, too.