Last Sunday, the best golfer in the world was chased down at the Hero World Challenge after holding a six shot lead over the eventual winner. Eleven years ago in the same tournament, the best golfer of all-time was chased down after holding a four shot lead.
Viktor Hovland’s defeat of Colin Morikawa in this year’s tournament was eye-catching, but Graeme McDowell’s take down of Tiger Woods in 2010 was unprecedented.
Morikawa has looked imperious at times this year, from his victory in the British Open, to out-battling Rory McIlroy down the stretch in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago. That sense of inevitability when a certain player is in contention on a Sunday is a rare thing. Rory had it for a period, so did Jordan Spieth. Tiger had it for over a decade.
The World Challenge is hosted by Tiger Woods, It is his tournament, and he went into the 2010 version a four time winner. Having won in 2006 and 2007 he had missed the next two years due to injury and his infamous personal issues. It was his comeback and it meant a little bit more that year.
Unluckily for Woods, he would come up against 2010 G-Mac. It was the best version of the man from Portrush, and a year that eclipsed any other in his career. In June he had won the US Open in Pebble Beach from three shots back heading into its final round. In September he had sunk a 15ft putt on the 16th in Celtic Manor that won the Ryder Cup. It cemented his place in the lore of the biggest tournament of them all. He had already won three times that year. This G-Mac was a force of nature.
The setting for his duel with Woods was Sherwood Country Club, a private Jack Nicklaus designed course at Lake Sherwood in California. At the time it was called the Chevron World Challenge, and only 18 of the best players in world were in the field. The likes of Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson were taking part, but names such as Camillo Villegas and Anthony Kim gave it a distinct 2010 vibe.
The first three days of the tournament were par for the course, with Tiger going low each day. A 65 Thursday, 66 Friday, and a casual 68 on moving day to cement his place at the top and set up his inevitable hoisting of the trophy.
For years Tiger had an air of invincibility going into a Sunday round. Whether he held a one shot lead or was three shots back, you never bet against him. On December 5th 2010, he held a four shot lead with 18 to play. Nobody had ever beaten Tiger Woods when trailing by three shots or more going into a final round.
McDowell came out firing on Sunday going three under through the first twelve holes, with Woods only level par for the day. Still, all it was was another pretender giving it everything before Tiger closed the deal in crunch time. Then came the 13th.
With Woods and McDowell paired together, G-Mac made a birdie at the par 5 while Tiger made a double. It was a three shot swing and gave the Irishman a two shot lead with five to play. Miraculously, it looked Graeme McDowell might actually complete the comeback and beat Tiger Woods at his own tournament.
Alas, it would seem that G-Mac was indeed just another pretender. He bogeyed 14 and bogeyed 17. They were tied at 15 under going down 18, and that sense of inevitability began to rise again. Tiger hits an iron from the fairway to within a couple of feet. The Tiger fans went wild, and Woods answered with a powerful and animated fist pump. His caddie Steve Williams knows it is over and has already removed his bib before McDowell’s attempt at birdie from 20ft.
But we must remember, this was 2010 G-Mac, his vintage. Of course he sinks it and sends it to a play-off. He now had to overcome another monumental Tiger record. It had been 12 years since Woods was defeated in a play-off on home soil.
Down the 18th again, this time in sudden-death. McDowell is faced with an even longer putt for the win. Like a shark venturing onto land, G-Mac heads into uncharted territory and takes down Tiger, holing the 25 footer.
He said of the putts on 18, “those are probably two of the greatest putts I've made.”
On Tiger, McDowell he had this to say:
“He used to appear invincible. Of course, he's made himself appear more human in the last 12 months. But there's something a bit special about his golf game, and I fully expect that mystique to return as the golf clubs start doing the talking again.”
Woods never fully regained the mystique and that aura of inevitability, and McDowell never had another year like it.