HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — For all the big moments in Graeme McDowell’s career, his resume was short on PGA Tour victories.
McDowell relished what he called his first authentic tour win, defeating fellow U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson in a playoff at the RBC Heritage on Sunday.
McDowell’s been at the center of some of golf’s biggest moments, from his rousing triumph at Pebble Beach in 2010 to capturing the winning point for Europe in that year’s Ryder Cup matches. He has six European PGA victories, too, but he hadn’t triumphed in the weekly grind of the world’s top tour.
“This game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back,” McDowell said. “It’s hard to win.”
Not on this day for McDowell, who pushed forward on wind-blown Harbour Golf Links when his rivals were moving backward, unnerved by the 20 to 30 mph winds that rattled the course.
He rallied from four strokes down when the day began to take a one-shot lead into the 72nd hole. Then after he made his only bogey of the round to fall into tie with Simpson, two-putted from about 15 feet to make a par on the extra hole that Simpson couldn’t match.
“I guess the weather was what the doctor ordered. I needed that to get close to the leaders,” said McDowell, who earned $1,044,000 for the victory.
McDowell, from Northern Ireland, had a 69, one of only three scores in the 60s among the 70 who teed off Sunday.
Simpson, reigning U.S. Open winner, shot 71. He had a chance to win in regulation, but his 22-footer for birdie went 3 feet past and set up the additional hole. “I came in with not too much confidence, but I just stayed true to the process of what we’ve been working on,” Simpson said.
Luke Donald shot a 69 to tie for third with Kevin Streelman, who had a 72. Jerry Kelly rounded out the top five after his even-par 71.
Charley Hoffman, the 54-hole leader, ballooned to a 77 and fell into a tie for sixth with Russell Henley (69) and Chris Stroud (70).
McDowell patted Simpson on the back after the playoff miss and smiled widely as the boats in Calibogue Sound tooted their horns and whistles. Neither McDowell nor Simpson made the cut a week ago at the Masters, yet bounced back in a big way at Harbour Town.
McDowell acknowledged he was frustrated and disappointed after missing the weekend at Augusta National by a shot. If he had made the cut, McDowell wondered if he’d have had the motivation to break through at Harbour Town. “It’s funny the way things happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t swap this for a top 10 last week.”
The course showed its teeth, winds arcing flagsticks and blowing debris on every hole. Donald backed off his putt on No. 7 when a large leaf tumbled through his line. Crews watered several greens between groups simply to keep balls holding instead of skipping off the wind-swept sod.
Blowers were heard throughout the day, trying to push off leaves, twigs and other tree parts falling everywhere on the course.
The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for the area, warning of gusts up to 45 mph.
“Extremely difficult,” Donald said of conditions. “Strongest wind I’ve played in all year.”
Few managed the wind better than McDowell, who lurked behind most of the round until striking on the back nine. He made a 28-foot birdie putt on No. 11 to move into a three-way tie for first with Simpson and Hoffman.
McDowell broke the tie on the 16th hole, landing his approach within 8 feet and making the birdie putt. He saved par from the back of the green on the 17th hole, but couldn’t do it a second time on the closing, lighthouse hole at No. 18 for his first bogey in 32 holes to fall back into a tie with Simpson.
Simpson’s chase appeared over when he made three bogeys in a six-hole stretch to fall two shots behind. He steadied himself with a birdie on No. 12 and parred his way to the finish to reach the playoff.
Donald, who’s got two seconds and a third in his past four appearances at Harbour Town, got an early charge going before Hoffman and Simpson hit the course with four birides on his first six holes to draw within two of the lead.
Donald, ranked No. 6 in the world, couldn’t keep the surge going, though. He had birdie chances on the final three holes of the front nine, but came up empty. Bogeys on the 13th and 15th holes end Donald’s run. Still, it was the fourth top-five finish in the last five trips to the RBC Heritage for Donald.
Langer keeps rolling with win in Greater Gwinnett
DULUTH, Ga. —Bernhard Langer, a three-time Champions Tour player of the year, said he’s never had a better start to a season.
Langer relied on his short game to bail him out of trouble early and he added to his impressive start to the season by shooting a 67 to win the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship by three strokes Sunday.
He had six birdies for his fifth top-three finish in six events. He also won the Ace Group Classic in Naples, Fla., and was the tour’s points leader even before his successful three days at TPC Sugarloaf.
“I’ve had very good starts before but this is exceptional so far,” Langer said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like this.”
Langer, who finished 10-under 206 for the tournament, took control with a 40-foot chip-in for birdie on No. 10.
Tom Lehman, whose 67 included birdies on 17 and 18, tied for second at 7 under with Tom Pernice Jr. Pernice made a move with an eagle on No. 15 and added a birdie on 18 for a 70.
Langer opened with a 1-over 73 on Friday before recovering with a 66 on Saturday.
“It’s just gratifying to see all the hard work pay off because sometimes you work hard and it doesn’t pay off,” Langer said. “Lately it’s been the more practice the better I get.”
Esteban Toledo, the second-round leader who played in the final group with Langer and Roger Chapman, fell out of contention with double bogeys on 11 and 12 on his way to a 75.
Lehman’s last birdie left him one stroke behind Langer, but the German answered quickly with a birdie on No. 16 to add cushion to his lead. He lifted his hands to the fans after the birdie putt as if signaling his victory was secure.
Langer, 55, closed with a birdie on 18 — but only after he escaped trouble on the fairway rough — and then raised his visor to the fans.
Lehman, watching Langer’s finish on TV from the media workroom, said “That adds insult to injury” when Langer’s third shot on 18 landed only three feet from the hole.
“The short game got me through,” Langer said after his 18th Champions Tour victory, referring to his ability to escape trouble on 8, 9 and 10.
“I missed three greens and I was 1 under par,” Langer said. “That was pretty cool and it kept me in the lead.”
Langer topped his second shot out of the fairway bunker on the par-5 No. 10, and his third shot rolled about 10 feet off the green. He chipped in for the crucial birdie and then kicked his left leg into the air and pumped his fist in response to the reaction from the fans as he extended his lead over Pernice and Toledo back to two strokes.
Lehman said Langer’s steely response to trouble on the hole was typical.
“He doesn’t get ruffled, first of all,” Lehman said. “He doesn’t let things bother him. He takes it all in stride. I think he has one of the best perspectives of anyone who has ever played the game.”
Chien Soon Lu shot 69 to finish fourth. Duffy Waldorf and Mark Calcavecchia tied for fifth at 4 under.
Chapman, who began the day tied for second, shot 75 to finish 2 under for the tournament.
First-round leader Michael Allen also finished 2 under following his 74.
Toledo, a rookie from Mexicali, Mexico seeking his first tour win, had two bogeys on the front nine and then found more serious trouble. His tee shots on 11 and 12 landed in the water, leading to devastating back-to-back double bogeys.
Langer moved past Toledo for the lead with three straight birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Toledo fell two strokes behind Langer with bogeys on No. 5 and 6.