Graeme McDowell – Getty Images
Graeme McDowell has won his first European Tour title since the 2014 French Open, holding off a spirited late challenge from defending champion, Dustin Johnson, to win the Saudi International at the Royal Greens G&CC in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
McDowell, who has won on the PGA Tour in more recent times when successful at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in March of last year, took a one-shot lead over Frenchman Victor Dubuisson into the final round.
Although he looked vulnerable through the early stages of his round, the man from Northern Ireland birdied the 14th and 15th which proved crucial, especially when Johnson eagled the last to close within two.
McDowell, whose win was his 11th European Tour tile, will now move from just outside the top 100 to just inside the top 50 when revised rankings are announced later today. It will be the first time he has been been inside the top 50 since June of 2015.
“I didn’t realise it had been quite that long since I’d won here in Europe,” said McDowell. “I’m very excited. I’m very relieved. This is a difficult golf course this week.
“It’s unusual to win feeling as uncomfortable as I did on a lot of these holes because it was a tough golf course these last two days, especially with tough conditions. The birdies on 14 and 15 were just huge at the time, and it was nice to have a that little cushion coming down the last couple.
“My big goal this year was to be back in the Top-50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments. I’m very excited that it’s happened a little faster than I expected but hopefully it’s laying some foundations down for having a big year.
“I really feel like I’m moving in the right direction, and it’s weeks like this that really give that you which I can additional effect and hopefully I can use it.
“It’s been ten years since I won a U.S. Open, ten years probably since I played the best golf of my life. I feel like I’m moving back in the right direction. I’ve got my head around what I’m trying to do with the swing and what I’m trying to do with the golf ball again, thanks to Kevin Kirk, who I started working with last August, and Pete Cowen who has been by my side for many, many years. Kenny on the bag there; I have a solid team.
“Life’s settled down. I’ve got a great wife and great family. I’m very happy with what’s going on in my life right now. I feel like the pond, the ripples in the pond have kind of steadied out a little bit now, and I’m in a good place to play some good golf.”
For Johnson it was just his second start of the year after recording a 7th place finish in Kapalua in early January.
“It was another day where it could have been a lot better,” said the American. “I’m happy with the way I’m playing. It was difficult to putt, though. It was really hard to make putts. I hit a lot of really good shots, and really good chances for birdie.
“I’m pleased with the way I played, but I would have liked to give Graeme a little more pressure coming down the stretch. I had some really good chances. I missed a real short one on 13, a close one on 14, 15, 17. I had all the chances, but I did finally make a nice putt on 18 to finish.”
Thomas Pieters, Phil Mickelson and Gavin Green tied for 3rd, one shot behind Johnson.
Lucas Herbert and Ryan Fox did best of the Australasians when they tied for 27th, for Herbert a solid follow up to his breakthrough win last week in Dubai.
Queensland’s European Tour rookie, Maverick Antcliff, has now made all three cuts in his first season in Europe, finishing 52nd this week.
The European Tour now heads to Australia for this week’s Vic Open at 13th Beach in Victoria before a one week break ahead of the WGC Mexico Championship.