A week makes the difference for refreshed Graeme McDowell as he wins RBC Heritage in Carolina

Northern Irishman wins his first PGA Tour title since 2010 US Open after missing cut at Masters

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The colour isn't green but that didn't matter much to Graeme McDowell, celebrating his first PGA Tour victory in three years. The RBC Heritage champion embraced the tartan jacket as if it were presented at Augusta after his play-off victory over Webb Simpson in South Carolina. The win takes him to No 8 in the world rankings and reboots belief in the build-up to the US Open in June.

"It's amazing kind of how things happen. I miss a cut by one last week [at the Masters] and am frustrated and disappointed. And perhaps if I make the cut last week and grind a 30th or 40th position out, do I sit here with this beautiful jacket on?" McDowell said. "I wouldn't swap this win for a top 10 last week. Of course, I'd swap it for a Green Jacket, but I wouldn't swap it for anything less than the win last week. In many ways the missed cut was the best thing that happened."

We can forgive McDowell his euphoria. The pickings have been far too slim since his victory at the US Open at Pebble Beach three years ago. Only two wins, at the Valderrama Masters and the reduced-field Chevron Challenge, embroider his resumé. He has, of course, contributed to two Ryder Cup triumphs in the meantime to cement his place in golfing lore, but it is the nitty-gritty of tour notches that ultimately defines a career.

McDowell, who started the final round four off the lead, led by a stroke on 10 under par at the last but a bogey dragged him into an extra hole with Simpson. No problem. Par was enough to see him home. "I knew in the bottom of my heart that my game was getting better. We'll all sit here and say you can't measure yourself by wins. It's not about the wins, it's about the upper curve and getting better and all these things. But when it really boils down to it, wins are very, very important to us. And you take a huge amount of confidence and belief and momentum from those.

"This is probably one of the more special ones in my career because it feels right. It feels good. My first real win on this side of the pond as a PGA Tour player. I feel this is building blocks for something good this year and beyond. I'm very excited about this."

Nine days previously McDowell was waiting by the 18th green hoping he had done enough to scrape two more rounds at Augusta. The course had not treated him well. Here it was different, tighter by half and windy as hell on the final day. Failure to progress at the Masters was met with a degree of insouciance, a determination not to get down on himself. The trip north to Hilton Head was treated as a working holiday, a McDowell clan gathering of family and friends in two rented houses. It worked.

"The way you take the pressure off yourself, I suppose, by looking at the bigger picture and realising that it's not life or death; it's just golf. It's just sport. And, yes, it hurts and, yes, you're nervous and it's disappointing. There's more disappointments in this game than there are successes. That's why you've got to enjoy nights like tonight because this game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back.

"It doesn't pay debts. If you feel like you deserve anything, this game certainly doesn't give it back to you. And I feel like I have learnt to understand, to keep an open mind, to kind of accept what this game throws at me and learn from my tough experiences and just try and put that back into the greater improvement that I'm on. I feel like I've learnt a lot from this sport.

"It still continues to disappointment me and frustrate me, but I feel like I've got better and better at accepting and understanding what it takes to win more. And I want to win more often. It's a great habit to get into. There are so many great players in the world right now it's very difficult. It's hard to do. You've got to savour them."