Graeme McDowell was celebrating his third tournament win of the year last night - and with it a place in the world’s top ten for the first time.
The US Open champion's casual aside to a TV camera as he walked off 18 at Valderrama succinctly summed-up the gruelling gauntlet Europe’s Ryder Cup match-clincher had to run yesterday as he claimed his third victory this year and seventh in-all on the European Tour.
“Glad that’s over,” McDowell said with a knowing grin after winning a nail-biting Ulster battle-royal with Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin at the Andalucia Masters by two strokes.
Truer words rarely have been spoken in jest. The going was every bit as brutal at wind-tossed Valderrama yesterday as it had been at Pebble Beach that famous Sunday afternoon in June.
It took all of the Portrush man’s qualities as one of golf’s toughest fighters to carve-out a final round of three-over par 74 and secure a €500,000 winner’s cheque which has thrown Europe’s Race to Dubai wide open with four tournaments to go.
Martin Kaymer, who earned just €33,000 in a five-way tie for 21st place, saw the €995,581 advantage he’d held over McDowell last week shrink to €528,561.
That might sound like a king’s ransom to the average working man but with €16m-plus up for grabs over the next month on Tour, the German will be sweating.
For all the brilliance of his recent hat-trick of wins on Tour, sparked by his US PGA Championship success at Whistling Straits, Kaymer looked jaded at Valderrama.
So don’t be surprised if McDowell bites another big chunk out of Kaymer's lead at this week’s €5m HSBC World Championship of Golf in Shanghai, where the first prize alone will be a whopping €835,000.
Germany’s US PGA Champion needed to win or finish second at Valderrama to leapfrog Tiger Woods to the top of the world rankings — an honour which went instead to Lee Westwood, even though the Englishman rested last weekend.
While Kaymer remains third in the rankings, McDowell leaps three places to a career-high 10th and the Ulsterman goes to Shanghai with his morale sky high after a win he described as “very special. I draw a lot of comparisons Pebble, where I also shot 74 in the final round on a very tough golf course.
“Today was a real war of attrition and it came down to the last man standing,” added the 30-year-old, before paying tribute to Meath’s Damien McGrane and Maybin for hounding him all the way to the finish on a brutally tough afternoon.
“Just four players finished under par this week and three of them were Irish, what does that say?” he exclaimed.
McGrane and Maybin finished tied second on one-under with Soren Kjeldesn, worth €223,710 to each of them. The diminutive Dane, who won the Volvo Masters here in 2008, showed his mettle by posting the equal low round of the final day, a stunning 69.
McGrane wrestled the lead and the initiative from McDowell when he holed out for birdie from a greenside bunker at the daunting par three 15th — but frittered it away on the final three holes.
After an ugly double-bogey six at 16, followed by a bogey six at the intimidating 17th hole, the Kells man needed to sink a sizeable putt for bogey five after pulling his tee shot into the cork oak trees at the last.
“After my good fortune (he modestly didn’t mention his good golf), to hand it away at the end of the day was disappointing,” McGrane sighed after signing for a 72.
Maybin started the final round in a tie for the lead with McDowell and for the second day in succession, he battled back stoutly after bogeys on the opening two holes. The 30-year-old menaced the US Open champion until dropped shots at 17 and 18 left him with a 76 and two strokes shy.
“That’s probably one of the most enjoyable week’s I’ve had on tour,” said the pride of Ballyclare, who has now finished second three times in three years on the European Tour. A win is not far away for this dogged customer.
Maybin has soared to 35th in the Race to Dubai rankings and will be joined at the European showpiece by McDowell (currently 2nd), McIlroy (14th), Padraig Harrington (18th), Darren Clarke (27th), McGrane (32nd), Peter Lawrie (34th).
Shane Lowry is just beyond the pale in 61st but can boost his ranking in Singapore and Hong Kong. He earned €37,300 in a tie for 18th on six-over at Valderrama after yesterday’s 75, the same score posted by Clarke in joint 26th.