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Dublin: 13°C Monday 17 May 2021

In the swing: why G-Mac and Rory's meltdowns are different beasts entirely

Neil Cullen uses this week’s column to take a closer look at Graeme McDowell’s final-day collapse at The Players.

Image: David Goldman/AP/Press Association Images

GRAEME MCDOWELL’S final-round demise at The Players’ Championship, despite producing a comparable result to that of Rory McIlroy at the US Masters, is not all that similar.

First of all, even though The Players’ is dubbed “the fifth Major”, however legitimately so, it is not actually a Major Championship and thus far is far less career-defining. Tiger Woods has won the Players’ Championship once and it doesn’t make him any less of a player that he hasn’t won it more times. His career will ultimately be defined by the amount of actual Majors he wins, not the number of “fifth Majors”.

Secondly, the fact the Graeme McDowell has actually won a Major is significant. His losing a three shot lead over the final 19 holes does not bring an envelopment of media attention and make people question his mental strength and capacity to win a Major.

McDowell has already proved himself, whereas as McIlroy is still a relatively unknown quantity when it comes to winning. Let’s not forget that he has still only won twice on Tour. Yes, very few players have won twice on Tour by the age of 22, but he has been in the Top 10 in the World for 18 months and won once, a time period in which only one of the world’s top 10 has no win to speak of, Tiger Woods.

McIlroy could well become a serial winner on tour, and we all hope he does, but he has ample time in which to that. The magnitude of his collapse at Augusta National was amplified by the fact that our hopes and support for him were so high. In the grand scheme of things, losing one Major is by no means a disaster when he will have four chances a year to win one for the next 20 years at least. That’s potentially around 80 chances to win a Major. What most of us would give for even one.

A third factor is both players’ form leading into the respective tournaments. Rory McIlroy was playing pretty well, recording three top 10s this season before the US Masters. McDowell on the other hand had missed three cuts and come 61st in his previous four events. By his own estimation, he was “swinging the golf club like an idiot.”

When you’ve been playing as badly as that, you don’t just turn up one day and start playing well again. It takes time to rebuild confidence and erase any doubts that may be lingering about the swing. The mere fact of being in contention on the final day after his recent form is an achievement in itself.

It is only by placing the performances of McDowell and McIlroy side by side that we see how different they really are. To borrow a phrase from John Giles, each performance has to be taken on its own merits. The one thing we can say is comparable is that both players will have better days and go on to win many times again, just like another Northern Irishman did at the weekend, Darren Clarke.

It would have been some day for Northern Ireland in golfing had McDowell actually won after Darren Clarke winning in Spain earlier in the day. Clarke overcame a four shot deficit at one point to win his first title since 2008. He is clearly not the powerhouse of the game he once was, but to be still winning tournaments at 42 years of age shows incredible commitment to the game and is also a mark of his immense natural talent.

Clarke’s experience and solid nerve stood him in good stead over his final nine holes as he made some crucial par saves, particularly on the 16th and 17th holes. The win moves him back into the top 90 in the world rankings and to 35th in the Race to Dubai.

Honourable mention

This week’s honourable mention goes to Ian Poulter. After a rain delay on Saturday, Poulter would have been looking at a 5:15am alarm clock if he hadn’t got his third round finished on the Saturday. His only option was to run the final two holes.

There’s something about a guy running in clothes like his that’s just very funny…

Read more of Neil Cullen’s weekly golf column here >

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