By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ORLANDO -- A double bogey on the first hole wasn't exactly the way Graeme McDowell had envisioned starting Sunday's final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
After all, a one-shot overnight deficit to Tiger Woods, who had already won six times at Bay Hill, was daunting enough. When McDowell played shots from two different greenside bunkers on the way to the disappointing 6 at No. 1, though, the Northern Irishman had carved out a deficit that would prove to be too large to overcome.
Yes, he made a 45-footer for birdie at the third hole. And there was that spectacular 51-foot eagle putt at No. 6 to delight the crowd in his adopted hometown. But McDowell simply spotted the hard-charging Woods too many shots early on a day when a firm, fast Bay Hill layout was playing like a major, more than two strokes above par.
Woods ended up winning by five shots -- the largest margin of victory on the PGA TOUR since McDowell's good friend and stablemate, Rory McIlroy blitzed the field at Congressional and won the 2011 U.S. Open by eight. Woods closed with a solid 70 as he ended a victory drought of 2 years, 6 months and 12 days.
"I think he really just kind of nailed home his comeback,"
McDowell said. "Great to have a front row seat watching maybe the
greatest of all time doing what he does best, winning golf
"Of course, I believed I had a chance today, but I just never really got close enough to the guy. He played well today and deserves his win, and you know, great to have him back winning tournaments. I think he's great for the world of golf, and great for the excitement levels and the atmosphere and TV and fans, and great for this game."
McDowell didn't play poorly on Sunday, and the 74 he shot was actually .027 under par on the windswept afternoon. He just didn't capitalize on the chances he had, and McDowell made too many mistakes on a day when he termed his play "average" to Woods who was playing extremely well.
"It was such a hard day today," McDowell said. "Pins were tucked
again, tough breeze, very major like. I just didn't control my ball
flight well enough. Made a few too many mistakes but was the
kind of golf course today, it was hard enough to make mistakes on.
"It was kind of fun there for a time making a few bombs. He was just going to be hard to get close to today. He controlled his ball well and in the end, (I) had to shoot 4 under to win, 3 under for a playoff, and it's a tough ask on this golf course. Tricky greens that were crusty and tough to putt on this afternoon."
McDowell felt the 12th hole was the turning point. woods pulled his drive but recovered well, hitting his second shot on the par 5 to 56 yards with a clear shot at the flagstick on the way to a two-putt par. McDowell, meanwhile, had driven safely onto the fairway but put his second shot in a bunker about 50 yards short of the green, blasted out to the fringe and then three-putted for the bogey – and suddenly Woods’ lead was four.
"I tried to hit the aggressive lay up, tugged it in the bunker left myself 90 yards out of a trap into the wind, which is not what you want and got a little too aggressive with a putt," McDowell recalled. "That was a big key. If I make birdie there, make I can put a squeeze on him. I just never really got close enough to him today."
That said, McDowell is extremely pleased with the way he's playing overall. He tied for ninth at The Honda Classic and shared 13th at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago. He will ride the momentum of this runner-up finish to Houston and the Masters the following week.
"I'm very excited with my game," McDowell said. "Second-place finish at a big event really sets up my spring season into the summer. I felt my game bubbling under the surface nicely and I'm very happy with a lot of the golf shots I've hit this week.
“I've putted well, and every facet of my game is in decent shape and I'm excited about Houston next week and on to Augusta."