Commentary

Graeme McDowell's unforgettable year

Updated: December 7, 2010, 2:46 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Graeme McDowell could use a nap, if not a nice, longer slumber. At the least, his feet should be propped up on a pillow, remote in one hand and golf clubs far away.

It has been a whirlwind six weeks for the reigning U.S. Open champion, capped by his stirring playoff victory Sunday over Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge.

From Spain to China to Singapore to Hong Kong to Dubai to Los Angeles, McDowell seemingly burned every last bit of fuel in his tank but had just enough to make three incredible clutch putts at the end of his duel to come out on top.

And if that was not enough...

McDowell is not done. He has this week's Shark Shootout in Naples, Fla., with partner and fellow Northern Ireland native Darren Clarke. Wonder if they'll be hoisting a few pints of Guinness?

"Obviously the script this year has been pretty amazing," said McDowell, who is taking up PGA Tour membership in 2011. "I didn't quite foresee it being this amazing. But I really felt like I had some big golf in me this year, and it's been amazing to be able to do it."

McDowell, 30, has delivered big all around the world.

A year ago at this time, he had barely snuck into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings after a second-place finish at the Chevron World Challenge.

That helped him get into the Masters, and he had just enough success early in the year to remain in the top 50 and qualify for the U.S. Open.

Two weeks after winning the Celtic Manor Wales Open, McDowell captured the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, holding off the likes of Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els to become the first European in 40 years to win the title.

[+] EnlargeGraeme McDowell
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesSince his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach in June, Graeme McDowell has two other worldwide victories this year, including a playoff triumph over Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday.

In October, he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th green of his singles match against Hunter Mahan, effectively clinching the Ryder Cup for Europe.

Soon after, he was trotting all over the world, winning the Andalucia Masters in Spain and making a run at the European money title before finishing second to Martin Kaymer in Dubai.

After a 16-and-a-half-hour flight from Dubai to Los Angeles, nobody would have blamed McDowell if he had settled into the pack at Sherwood Country Club and simply enjoyed the view.

But he managed to get himself into the final pairing with Woods on both weekend rounds, matching Tiger's 68 on Saturday to stay 4 shots back, then shooting a 69 on Sunday that ended up being good enough for a playoff, which McDowell won with a birdie on the first extra hole.

"It's been amazing," McDowell said. "I put that up there to play with him this weekend, and to do it again it's definitely another highlight of 2010. I'm just very proud of myself the way I've applied myself the last six weeks. It would have been pretty easy 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, I'm very proud of myself as well."

Most impressive, of course, is how McDowell refused to buckle in the presence of Woods. Although Woods' game is clearly not back to his dominating level, he had looked good through 54 holes, dominating the par-5s and generally doing the things that have made him so tough to beat when in that position.

Woods had never squandered a 54-hole lead of three strokes or more and clearly felt the pressure of trying to notch his first victory of the year. The swing changes he is making under Sean Foley were truly put to the test, and Woods admitted it was difficult to not revert to old habits.

A combination of Woods' poor play and McDowell's timely front-nine birdies led to a tight duel on the back nine. When McDowell birdied the par-5 13th while Woods made double-bogey 7, the 3-stroke swing resulted in a 2-shot advantage for McDowell.

They were tied after McDowell made a bogey at the 17th, where he had to take an unplayable lie and managed to get it up-and-down to keep from falling a stroke behind.

That is where Woods' perfect 8-iron to 3 feet seemingly ended the tournament.

Instead, McDowell rolled in his 20-footer for birdie, forcing a playoff, which he won by making another incredible birdie putt at the same hole a few minutes later. When Woods couldn't answer with his 15-footer, it was over.

"Those are probably two of the greatest putts I've made," said McDowell, who moved to seventh in the world rankings on Monday. "They're the kind of putts you make them and you really can't believe it afterwards.

"I mean, they were the stuff of dreams. 2010 has been the stuff of dreams. It's been that kind of year."

Amazingly, the new one will begin quite quickly.

After this week's tournament, McDowell will take a quick journey back to Northern Ireland for the holidays.

Then it's all the way back to Hawaii for the start of the PGA Tour season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.

It's been some journey for McDowell, and it's seemingly never-ending.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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