KAVARNA, Bulgaria -- Graeme McDowell made amends for last year's final-round defeat to capture the Volvo World Match Play Championship on Sunday, defeating Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee 2 and 1 in the final at Thracian Cliffs.
The former U.S. Open champion had to fight back from 2 down after four holes and didn’t get in front of his 43-year old opponent until the 14th hole before securing victory at the 17th.
VOLVO WORLD MATCH PLAY
The victory is McDowell's second win in three events after he also captured the PGA Tour's RBC Heritage earlier this month at Hilton Head, S.C.
Jaidee's effort should see him move inside the top-50 in the rankings, high enough for a place in next month's U.S. Open. He entered the week ranked 63rd.
McDowell, last year’s runner-up, had gotten off to a string of fast starts en route to the final, but found himself 2 down after four holes to the resilient Jaidee and took seven holes to register a win.
Still 1 down at the turn, a run of three wins in four holes from the 12th gave the Northern Irishman the $1.2 million winner’s check and one of the most prestigious titles on the European Tour.
“Obviously a nice day and a great trophy,” said McDowell. “I talked about it all week about the prestige of this event and how many great champions, and nice to add my name to that list of legends.
“We talked a lot about what Volvo have done with this event, what they have done with golf around the world and coming to Bulgaria this week obviously was a brave move, but I think it's paid off,” he added. “Sitting here with the trophy I'm going to say great things about the place but I think if you talk to all the players, I think everyone enjoyed themselves, everyone enjoyed the golf course.”
In perfect conditions at a sun-drenched Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, Jaidee won the second from 25 feet, having salvaged a half at the first despite driving into a bunker. The five-time European Tour winner, having seen off Thomas Aiken in the morning’s semifinals, doubled his advantage at the long fourth when McDowell missed a 10-foot birdie putt and he converted from half that distance.
McDowell had beaten Branden Grace in his semifinal and was looking to atone for his defeat to Nicolas Colsaerts at the same stage last year.
But the world No. 8 was lucky not to go 3 down at the par-5 fifth when his approach went into an unplayable patch of rough and he had to salvage par from 12 feet, with Jaidee missing his birdie effort from six feet.
A hole finally went McDowell’s way when he birdied the short seventh from six feet, and the next four were halved with pars – although Jaidee had a chance from six feet at the eighth and McDowell had to hole lengthy par putts at the ninth and 10th.
Only McDowell was able to birdie the long 12th and so the contest went into the closing stretch all square again.
McDowell won the 14th with a par after Jaidee drove into a bush and had to play out sideways, and as a result led the final for the first time, before taking the 15th after a brilliant approach to five feet and paring the next two for victory.
“It was a little bit more tentative this afternoon,” said McDowell. “It was tough to keep that level of golf up all weekend, and the key putts really this afternoon were with the par saves on nine and 10 – they were massive.
“I sensed from Thongchai after that that he was starting to fatigue a little bit; I really sensed a bit of an opening. I just had to hit the shots and I did that well coming down the stretch. The mistake he made on 14 and then the birdie I made on 15 was really the telling stuff.
“Like I say, it’s great to put my name on the trophy. I'm looking across to see Montgomerie and Westwood just popping off the trophy at me, great European Tour legends, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, the history of this event, it's fantastic,” he added. “Els, Montgomerie, Westwood, Ballesteros, Norman, Lyle, Faldo, Player, Palmer, it's just crazy stuff really. To thrust yourself into that – to have your name on a trophy this cool is pretty special.
“I'll drink a couple of cold ones tonight and enjoy this. This is a special moment in my career, no doubt about it. Wins are super special – two in five weeks, that's great. I'm feeling pretty good right now.”