Bunker Mentality

A cautionary tale for Graeme McDowell

Bunker Mentality

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Bunker Mentality's first reaction on watching Graeme McDowell beat Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday night was: "Wow! That has to be the highlight of the year!"

If you haven't seen it for yourself, scroll down the page where you can watch the video of McDowell hammering in two consecutive 20-plus-foot putts, the first to get in to a play-off with Woods, the second to defeat him on the first extra hole.

Why our reaction? Simply because it was one of the most magnificently gutsy finishes ever seen in a golf tournament. Knocking in one 20-footer - as any amateur golfer knows - can always be put down to a little bit of luck at the right time in the right place. To knock in two of 'em demonstrates either the luck of a lottery winner or a superhuman display of skill and nerve.

Considering McDowell's nerveless victory at the US Open in June, and the way he closed out the Ryder Cup for Europe in October, it's pretty clear we can rule out luck. But when you start thinking about those earlier performances at Pebble Beach and Celtic Manor, you're reminded that the astonishing finish at Thousand Oaks was not even Graeme McDowell's highlight of the year.

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Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, celebrates winning the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament in sudden death at Sherwood Country Club in Thous
That alone should tell you everything you need to know about just how special the Northern Irishman's golf has been this year.

Yet despite the trophies on the mantelpiece and the indelible memories which will always accompany them, McDowell needs to do everything he can to make sure he keeps his momentum going, because this may be the most dangerous moment of his career.

Don't believe BM? Consider the case of Michael Campbell, a player who enjoyed a similarly extraordinary year back in 2005.

The affable Kiwi - affectionately known as Cambo, due to his super middleweight build -  held off Tiger Woods to win the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst in a display of golf every bit as nerveless as McDowell has demonstrated this year.

Yet Cambo's form fell off a cliff after his annus mirabilis. He is winless since that season, and has been hit by a series of freak injuries - one of which occurred while he was picking up his bag from a luggage carousel at Hong Kong Airport, for example - which have hampered his efforts to get back to where he was.

Like McDowell, Campbell had proven his Major victory was no fluke in the months following his moment of glory: he followed up his win at Pinehurst with a fifth place in the Open at St Andrews a month later then finished tied for sixth at the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol before going on to pick up the trophy at the HSBC Match Play championship at Wentworth.

How things have changed: Campbell has made the cut in just five Majors in the past five seasons and made only four cuts in his 50-odd tournaments in the past two seasons. Perhaps most frustrating of all, he throws in the occasional decent round, as he did with his opening 67 at this year's Portugal Masters. It's still in there, but it can't get out.

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New Zealand's Michael Campbell during Round Two of the Celtic Manor Wales Open, at the Celtic Manor Resort
Campbell is far from the only player to have reached the top, only to slide right back down again - and we're not just talking about flash-in-the-pan Major winners like Ben Curtis or Todd Hamilton. Think of David Duval, who won the 2001 Open championship and promptly saw his game disintegrate, or Ian Baker-Finch, whose sublime 1991 Open win was followed by years of mental anguish. Or take David Howell, who seemed to have the world of golf at his feet after facing down the then-imperious Tiger Woods at the HSBC Champions in late 2005, but who has seen injury and mysterious losses of form rob him of what seemed sure to be a glittering career.

Don't get us wrong: Bunker Mentality's cap is doffed as firmly as it can be in Graeme McDowell's direction. But even as we're congratulating him, we can't help but keep everything crossed in the hope that 2010 will be a springboard to propel him on to even greater heights - and not an impossible weight of expectation and past glories hung around his neck forever more.

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Statistic of the Week: Just to put Graeme McDowell's two huge putts in perspective: back in 2008 the US Tour collected reams of data about how many putts players hole from various distances. It turns out that in a 72-hole tournament, the average player holes 1.5 putts of more than 20 feet. McDowell knocked in two in 20 minutes!

Nonsense of the Week: BM didn't have much of an issue with the European Tour  sharing the Player of the Year award between McDowell and Martin Kaymer. It would have given Kaymer the nod, marginally, and only because Ryder Cup performances shouldn't count in what is an award reflecting displays in regular European tournaments. Yes, it smacks of Cheryl-Cole-on-X-Factor-style spinelessness, but if you're ever going to share it then it might as well be this year.

The US Tour's decision to award Rickie Fowler the Rookie of the Year award was so nonsensical that it should make any right-thinking golf fan's eyeballs shoot out on cartoon stalks. And judging from his quotes, that's exactly what happened to world number one Lee Westwood when he heard the news.

Shots of the Week: McDowell's incredible pair of long-range putts to see off Woods in Tiger's own tournament in California. The 14-times Major winner took it with a wry grin - as well he might, considering the number of times he's pulled off miracle putts in similar circumstances. Just ask 2005 Masters runner-up Chris Di Marco or 2008 US Open play-off loser Rocco Mediate.

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