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McDowell's nerve highlights Tiger's continued vulnerability

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Iain Carter | 11:58 UK time, Monday, 6 December 2010

Graeme McDowell's fourth victory of the season summed up the golfing year to a tee.

It reminded us of a glorious 12 months for the man from Northern Ireland, not to mention European golf, and denied Tiger Woods victory in what has been a miserable 2010 for the former world number one.
There is no more tenacious a competitor than McDowell at the moment.

Despite creaking over the closing holes after turning a four-shot deficit into a two-shot lead at the Chevron Challenge, he made the putts that counted, both at the end of regulation play and in the sudden death play-off.

His play on the greens boasted the same sure touch evident in October, when he secured the Ryder Cup for Europe, and in June, when he became the continent's first winner of the US Open in 40 years.

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McDowell sealed European win at 2010 Ryder Cup

This tenacity has taken the 31-year-old to a career high number seven in the world rankings. His victory caps what, by his own admission, has been a "dream year".

Forgive me for not expanding further on the McDowell story at this point because I am sure he will be commanding more attention on these pages later in the week.

Instead, let us consider the man McDowell beat in this World Challenge event. The tournament, with a field of 18, provided Woods with the only occasion he has genuinely challenged for a title since the implosion of his private life a year ago.

There was a time when all bets would be off once the American hit the front - and certainly taking a four-shot lead into the final round usually signalled the end of any meaningful contest.

Not any more - and it is as much to do with the loss of the 34-year-old's deadly accuracy on the greens as yet another - the fourth - rebuilding of his swing.

Yes, that job remains a work in progress, as shown by the way Woods found trouble at crucial stages on the back nine as he sought to close out his first victory for more than a year. But it was fallibility on the greens early in his round that generated much of the pressure he ultimately failed to withstand.

His putting is not what it once was and the deterioration in the reliability of his stroke stretches back further than his errant driving outside his house just over a year ago.

Much has been made of the loss of his aura of invincibility following the revelations over his private life but his rivals are more likely to seize on the deterioration of his form with the short stick.

Woods is keen to emphasise his desire to win the five majors he needs to overhaul Jack Nicklaus's all-time mark of 18 and set a new record for the most number of victories in the tournaments that matter most.

Woods turns 35 at the end of the year and still has time on his side. But he is no longer Mr Invincible - and the opposition know it.

This is not an idle conclusion from the evidence of a tournament with a field of a mere 18 men - more a reasoning from what we have seen since Woods returned to action at the Masters in April.

It has been a year of exceptional circumstance for him - one in which golf has not always been his highest priority - and this goes a long way towards explaining his deterioration.

But it has also been a year in which his rivals have caught up and, in the case of Lee Westwood, overtaken him. Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and McDowell are all better putters under pressure at the moment.

These players - and others - know Woods can be beaten down the stretch, just as McDowell proved with three single putts in a row to pick up the $1.2m (£766,000) spoils at Sherwood Country Club on Sunday.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fantastic, my SPOTY without a doubt...

  • Comment number 2.

    Once Tiger gets the first victory under his belt then the nerves will settle and he will be back to winning ways. Both players were feeling the pressure for different reasons on the final stretch and McDowell showed this on the 17th when he yanked the ball into the scrub. All in all, it was good advert for golf and apart from the Dustin Johnson fiasco proved to be the most exciting finish of the year. I think Tiger will dominate again in 2011 as the likes of McIlroy, Casey, Donald etc seem to implode when they hit the front far more often than Tiger does. And that's in the year that Tiger played badly. Just imagine how they will fare once he is back firing on all cylinders.

  • Comment number 3.

    The T. Woods golf game seems to be coming back fine, it's his nerve under pressure which isn't nearly what it was. He may get it back - in which case he'll dominate again, all records will go - or he may not. If he doesn't, he'll be more of an "ordinary" top 5 in the world golfer who might win another major or two if the cards fall his way. I'm a fan and I hope we do see his complete renaissance, but I'm not that confident about it.

  • Comment number 4.

    A fabulous end to a wonderful year of golf with high drama at yesterday's tournament that followed the earlier excitement at The Masters, USPGA, Ryder Cup etc. McDowell has certainly had a "dream year" and his putting under pressure has been quite superb. His swing is not as fluent or "text book" as the likes of McIlroy, Casey and Donald but he has shown himself to have tremendous heart in the heat of battle while the players mentioned seem able (or just content?) to win lots of money but not big tournaments. As for Tiger, there were a few poor swings over the weekend but his technique now looks much more solid under the coaching of Foley and his long game proved sound at the very end of the tournament - a sign that he's almost back. The area still looking a little fallible is his putting but, free again to be able to focus on his game, Tiger's incredible natural talent and unmatched work ethic will see him winning Majors and WGC events again very soon. Westwood is amazingly consistent tee to green and might challenge at The US Open but I would back Woods and McDowell ahead of all others in 2011.

  • Comment number 5.

    So now we will all hear about how Woods is "back" - was hearing it all night long during the coverage of the tournament yet he couldnt win his own tournament at a course his himself picked . Woods will no longer dominate like he used to- a combination of the pack closing the gap and his won game going off boil means he is now part of a bunch of guys who can win .

  • Comment number 6.

    I think it is worth mentioning that Woods held up significantly better under pressure than McDowell did yesterday. He hit better shots than McDowell under pressure on the last few holes, especially long game wise. I think McDowell can thank the tree for his victory. Next time (maybe in a major) that tree won't be there and Woods will walk away with it after a bit of practice on the greens. I think Tiger is better than he was before, his long game is a lot more solid. All it takes is one week when his putting clicks and the confidence will flow right back.

  • Comment number 7.

    What an epic player. The bogey on 17 was incredible to say the least, then the two birdies to win it at the last, especially after Tiger came up with one of his Holywood shots, were exceptional. G-Mac is the definition of a clutch player.

    I would say that Tiger would have admired the mental strength of McDowell and his will to win, he may not be as good as Woods but he's right up there with Tiger on the mental side of the game. Was delighted that he won it.

    As for Woods, he looked near his best but still threw in a 7 on the back nine which you feel he wouldn't have done at his peak. He's definitely more vulnerable now than he was, which can only be good for the game. Still going to be a forced to be reckoned with, Westwood and Woods going toe-to-toe in the next year should be interesting.

    However, it's hard to warm to him at times when there's people like Mark Roe on Sky overhyping every single simple shot he plays.

  • Comment number 8.

    Is it a reflection of "Tiger's continued vulnerability", or at least diminishing cache, that the Chevron's dates have changed for 2011, unlikely that anyone playing the Dubai final tournament will be able to participate, incl presumably McDowell?

  • Comment number 9.

    For the last 10 or 12 years, every golfers benchmark has been Tiger Woods, but 2010 has shown he is human like everyone else and not made of Kryptonite. No longer is it the case that the other players are playing for second. This has to be good news for golf and European golf in particular.

    But don't be too surprised, because the structure of golf in Europe is geared towards producing top players, from the amateur ranks to the professional ranks. Don't be surprised to see more European major winners in the next few years, (Will one of those be Lee Westwood, surely the best current player not to win a major?)but some of those names may well be players who are not currently household names, like Danny Willett from Lindrick Golf Club.

    Tiger Woods will win again, but he has lost the X factor. Now the other players see him as beatable and those players who were inspired by him want to beat him the most. It's hard to imagine Woods losing a 4 shot lead, but these things happen and expect it to happen more and more.

  • Comment number 10.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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