McDowell vaults into world top 50 and Masters

It was not just a cheque for nigh on half a million dollars that sent Graeme McDowell skipping down a golden fairway deep into the land of make-believe in Orlando on Sunday night. The Ulsterman's joint second-place finish at the Bay Hill Invitational also secured him a spot at this week's Tournament Players' Championship - the so-called "fifth major" - here at Sawgrass.

It was not just a cheque for nigh on half a million dollars that sent Graeme McDowell skipping down a golden fairway deep into the land of make-believe in Orlando on Sunday night. The Ulsterman's joint second-place finish at the Bay Hill Invitational also secured him a spot at this week's Tournament Players' Championship - the so-called "fifth major" - here at Sawgrass.

And then there was the little bonus of a berth in some event known as The Masters - the first major - in a fortnight to look forward to. No wonder this quietly spoken 25-year-old resembled the cat that had just fallen in a whole ocean of cream after his closing tournament-best 66 had hurtled him into the world's top 50 at No 38.

"The Masters is a dream come true," confirmed the bleary-eyed boy from Ballymoney, quite unnecessarily. "I've been watching Augusta since I was a kid. For me it's the pinnacle of the golf world, really - it's the golf tournament.''

Best not tell that to the Open organisers, or for that matter the European Tour on whose Order of Merit the former Walker Cup player finished in sixth place last year but who is now hell-bent on furthering his education Stateside.

"It's fun to come and play courses that I feel are close to major set-up," he said, before issuing a damning verdict on his home tour. "Back in Europe, I feel we don't get enough exposure to this kind of set-up."

Indeed, McDowell has been an avowed Yankophile since his days on the collegiate circuit, where his scoring average was better than a previous student by the name of Tiger Woods. That signalled him out as a superstar in waiting, as did his victory in the Scandinavian Open 2002, on just his fourth Tour start. Progress since has not been as rapid as predicted, but the next few weeks may just release the anchors.

"I now feel I can compete and be up there in any given week," he said.

Invariably, Vijay Singh is up there and competing in any given week, although he felt anything but the new World No 1 as he watched his seven-iron to the last green splosh into the Florida water in Sunday night's finale. In fact the Fijian probably felt a right No 2 as his resulting double-bogey handed Kenny Perry his eighth US Tour title and McDowell $100,000 (£57,000) extra for joint second.

"Big deal," he answered when told he had reclaimed his place in the world rankings from the once-again spluttering Woods after relinquishing it a mere fortnight ago.

"I came here to win a golf tournament."

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