How far can Graeme McDowell go after his recent victory over Tiger Woods?
What’s a major championship worth to a golf career? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really think it’s something worth asking when a first-time major winner hoists the first major trophy of his career. Forget about the so-called other major championships (the Players comes to mind) and think about the four majors we all consider to be the creme de la creme of the golf world.
To some, winning a major championship can define your career, for good or bad. Think about some of the major winners from the past 10 years: Todd Hamilton, Shaun Micheel, Paul Lawrie, Michael Campbell; all of them won a single major championship during their career, before they promptly falling off the face of the earth. And not one of them has ever made it back to their major championship-winning form. It’s quite sad when you think of it that way.
You have to wonder if all of them would give up their one major title for a successful, long-lasting career. Graeme McDowell seemed like that sort of player until earlier this year. With only four European Tour titles to his name — his last one coming in 2008 — McDowell didn’t strike anyone as a player to be reckoned with; if anything, he seemed like the sort of player that was just hanging on, never getting too high or too low.
But things changed in the summer of 2010. McDowell won the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion, while also winning the Wales Open and the Valderrama Masters on the European Tour. It was, simply put, a banner year for the man from Northern Ireland. But even with the major and the two wins abroad, there were some who still felt like McDowell wasn’t the real deal.
Then came the Ryder Cup and the implausible head-to-head battle with Hunter Mahan in the final singles match. If there was ever a doubt about McDowell’s career rounding the corner, his winning point performance at Celtic Manor silenced the critics. It was that performance that made Sunday’s victory over Tiger Woods at the Chevron Challenge seem so normal.
It used to be that a win over the second-ranked player in the world — one who prided himself on closing the deal during his career — was a cause for celebration. If anything, McDowell took the victory in stride. It looked like he knew he was going to win. That confidence that maybe wasn’t there early in his career is very evident now. Even if McDowell never wins another major in his career, the chances of him falling into the same category as the Lawries and Campbells of the world has greatly diminished after this season.
Graeme McDowell is here to stay. Get used to seeing his name at the top of the leader board.