Keeping Score

Graeme McDowell: Ryder Cup Putting Hero

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A guy named Graeme McDowell just conquered America. Again.

Back in June, the golfer from Northern Ireland became the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years. He held off the biggest names in the sport, guys like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els, with a steady, if not spectacular final round.

His performance on Monday was even greater. On a rare bright afternoon at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales, with the expectations of all Europe thrust upon him, McDowell rolled in a 15-foot putt on the 16th hole, one of the great clutch shots in Ryder Cup history, to give him a comfortable two-hole lead, with two to go, in his singles match with American Hunter Mahan. Down by three points going into the day, the U.S. team had mounted a furious comeback during the Monday singles matches, tying the tournament at 13 1/2 – 13 1/2 with just McDowell and Mahan still on the course. McDowell needed to beat Mahan for Europe to win its sixth cup in the last eight events: a tie would have given Americans their second straight Ryder Cup.

The European partisans roared after McDowell’s huge putt, as if they were at a football game. On the next hole, Mahan needed a birdie to stay alive. Instead, he left his par-three tee shot short of the green, and muffed his chip shot like a hack, leaving that ball too short of the putting surface. The pressure got to him. After his par putt broke a little too early, Mahan conceded the hole, and the Cup, to Europe.

A sea of Euro frenzy engulfed McDowell on the green. “I’ve never felt more nervous on a golf course in all my life,” he said afterwards. Once again, McDowell proved that no one is cooler under pressure. And once again, America paid the price.