French Open 2014: Graeme McDowell cuts a late dash to retain title

 

Graeme McDowell will head into the Open Championship buoyed by his first successful title defence following  a dramatic final round of the French Open on Sunday.

McDowell, of Northern Ireland,  overturned an eight-shot deficit thanks to a brilliant closing 67 despite the wet and windy conditions at Le Golf National, although he also had plenty of assistance from American Kevin Stadler along the way.

Stadler’s four-shot  overnight lead disappeared with a front nine of 41, but he battled back well with birdies on the 14th and 16th to pull within one of McDowell, who had moved three ahead with his fifth birdie of the day on the 16th.

With McDowell then dropping his only shot of the day on the 18th after finding heavy rough off the tee, Stadler needed to par the 18th to force a play-off,  but he missed from two feet just as McDowell left the recording area to prepare for extra holes.

Stadler’s closing 76 left him in a tie for second with Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, who dropped five shots in the first four holes but played the rest in four under for a 72.

“I’m very surprised,” McDowell said after claiming his 10th European Tour title. “Midway through my second glass of red wine last night, when I was very disappointed with my back-nine performance on Saturday, I really didn’t think I’d be a) standing here with an opportunity to be in a play-off and b) with a trophy in my hands.

“I feel very fortunate. Kevin Stadler is a great, great player. I literally gave him that putt on the last green. I didn’t expect him to miss that.

“It’s not really the way you like to win. I was ready to go for the play-off, but I’ll take it and run. I really needed this victory. It’s a special one for me. It’s also pretty timely. There’s a busy summer ahead and this a really good kick-start to the summer.”

McDowell has deliberately played a lighter schedule this year – even missing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – to  leave himself fresher for the second half of the season.

“It’s a good decision now, but I have to say myself and my team were starting to question it,” the former US Open champion told Sky Sports. “But my body has probably never been in as good a shape at this point in the season coming into two major championships, the FedEx Cup play-offs and, hopefully, the Ryder Cup.

“I’m very proud to defend my first title ever and this is the boost I needed on so many fronts, especially the Ryder Cup.” The victory takes McDowell to 10th place on the European points list.

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