Commentary

For Graeme McDowell, a strange path

Updated: October 18, 2010, 2:34 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

The perks for winning major championships are numerous, both financial and otherwise. The schedule is secure with spots in all the big tournaments, and endorsement opportunities are plentiful.

[+] EnlargeMcDowell
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesGraeme McDowell clutches the U.S. Open trophy after capturing the major championship in June. Had he not gotten into the Chevron World Challenge after Tiger Woods' infamous car accident, he might not have even been in the field at Pebble Beach Golf Links

Then there are the boondoggles such as this week's Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, where the four major champions for the year are invited, all expenses paid, to play 36 holes, with the last-place guy guaranteed $200,000.

And Graeme McDowell has Tiger Woods to thank for all of this?

"Kind of a bizarre story," said McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion and Europe's Ryder Cup hero. "One of those things, the small things that happen in your life that can kind of shape into bigger things."

Well, it was the biggest story in golf, and it was no small thing, really.

But McDowell is referring to the Thanksgiving accident outside of Woods' Orlando, Fla., home that turned his life upside down and had a big effect on the Northern Irishman's life.

That accident led to a series of well-chronicled events that greatly affected Woods' future.

Among the little-thought-of results at the time was Woods inability to compete in his own Chevron World Challenge in Southern California a week later.

No big deal, right?

Well, for McDowell, it meant everything.

He had just finished competing at the World Cup in China, where he and partner Rory McIlroy had lost to Italians Edoardo and Francesco Molinari by a stroke.

The tournament was concluding as the fallout from the Woods saga unfolded, and it became clear that the tournament might be in need of another player.

"My manager, Conor Ridge, was there and he had been in contact with the Chevron people during the year," McDowell said. "Obviously we had been turned into the news that week, obviously with what was going on in Tiger's world.

"I was on my way back to Orlando through L.A. anyway, and the scenario was that a spot could be opening up for me and would I be interested in spending the night in L.A. and just sort of taking my chances and seeing what happened.

"I did that, and I think I hit the mall with Ian Poulter that day, the Monday, and we were just kind of shopping around and I got the call telling me was I was in. That was a pretty good deal, just to be involved that week."

Not only was McDowell involved, he contended, finishing a stroke behind winner Jim Furyk. The $800,000 he earned for second place was a nice bonus, but it is what finishing solo second meant to McDowell's 2010 season that stands out to him now.

For the first time in 2009, Woods' Chevron event -- although unofficial as far as the PGA Tour is concerned -- offered world rankings points. McDowell had fallen out of the top 50 in the world, to 55th, prior to the event.

That is a big deal because the top 50 in the world at the end of the calendar year receive a Masters invitation.

So McDowell's second-place finish vaulted him from 55th in the world to 38th. He fell back just one spot to 39th by the end of the month, meaning a spot in the year's first major championship.

"It really made my schedule a lot more predictable at the start of the season," said McDowell, who missed the cut at Augusta National but nonetheless was still ranked among the top 50 in the world. "That no doubt gave me the peace of mind to work and concentrate and play the best game that I could play and work hard on my game.

"There's no doubt that the pieces fell into place. I didn't have a great start to the season, but still, I was practicing and playing in the best events. No doubt, that's what got me ready for Wales and the U.S. Open and what went on to happen at the Ryder Cup. It's just amazing how small things like that can kind of shape a year."

McDowell did tie for sixth at the WGC-CA Championship, and he added his second top 10 at the China Open in April. But he still was barely inside the top 50 in the world in late May -- which got him into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Two weeks prior, McDowell, 30, won the Celtic Manor Wales Open, then captured the Open at Pebble and won the decisive point for Europe at the Ryder Cup later in the year.

"Obviously without Chevron, perhaps I'm outside of that window and maybe I'm not even at Pebble Beach," he said. "It's amazing how things happen."

And McDowell, it should be noted, took advantage.

He is now ranked 13th in the world, with a busy schedule still to come, as he is second on the European Tour's money list (Race to Dubai) behind Germany's Martin Kaymer.

McDowell will take up his PGA Tour card in 2011 as well.

"It's very important to prioritize, to not get sucked into playing too much golf around the world and not beating myself up too much," McDowell said. "My scheduling is going to be very, very important to me next year. … I'm looking forward to the 2011 season and look to get involved in the FedEx Cup playoffs and really get a feel for that."

Before that, however, McDowell will return to Woods' event in Southern California.

And it is quite possible some awkward words of thanks will be forthcoming to the tournament host.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com