A golf tournament can turn quickly, as the final round of the Saudi Invitational proved once more.
After a bogey on the 13th hole at Royal Greens G. & C.C. on Sunday, Graeme McDowell clung to a one-stroke lead, sitting two over on the day, 10 under for the tournament and looking plenty worse for wear. Thomas Pieters was already done with his closing 65 and sitting at nine under, and Phil Mickelson was also at nine under, charging with three birdies early on Sunday. Meanwhile, defending champion Dustin Johnson lurked two back.
Twenty minutes later, McDowell was breathing easy, holding now a decisive three-stroke lead after back-to-back birdies from 30 and six feet on the 14th and 15th holes. A bogey from Mickelson on the par-3 16th and a birdie on the 18th would have him finish tied for third, and an eagle from Johnson on the par-5 18th let him jump past Pieters and Mickelson into solo second.
With three final pars, McDowell finished with an even-par 70 for the day, a 12-under 278 for the week and the satisfaction that he’s still got what it takes to win on the European Tour.
“It’s special,” said the 40-year-old from Northern Ireland, who grabbed his 11th career Euro Tour title, but his first since the 2014 French Open. “I’ve been working hard the last year and a half. I’ve said I want to be back up there one more time. I’ve got young kids at home and I want them to see me out there. I want them to see dad is tough and dad can do it and not have to pull up a YouTube video. … I’m really relieved to get the job done.”
With the victory, McDowell is expected to jump back into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, after starting the week ranked 104th. “I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a big goal this year to be back in the top 50. Came a little quicker than expected.”
Another golfer trying to return to the World top 50 is Mickelson, who ranked 86th entering the week and figured to draw some inspiration from his play in Saudi Arabia, where he posted three rounds of 68 or better. His T-3 finish was his best in any tournament since his victory a year ago at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he was flying to from the Middle East to defend his title. It was also his first top-20 finish in any tournament since last year’s Masters.
“It was so fun to be back in the mix,” Mickelson said. “It’s been a while since I have been back in contention. It’s been a while since I’ve been playing well, and this was a great week for me. A good step. And it was so fun coming down the stretch to feel the nervousness and the excitement and the opportunities.”