Reversals of fortune were the order of the day on golf links on both sides of the Atlantic on Sunday. For Darren Clarke in Spain, this worked out very well, indeed, while Graeme McDowell had a nightmarish time at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Clarke, 42, snapped a 3-year losing streak by rallying to win the Iberdrola Open at Pula Golf Club in Mallorca. He received some help from Chris Wood, who squandered a 4-stroke lead and settled into a tie for second place. McDowell, meanwhile, was three strokes up on his nearest pursuers when he teed off at 18 while finishing his third round at The Players Championship late on Sunday morning. A bad bounce sprayed the graffiti on the wall that announced his doom; he finished the event tied for 33rd position.
A DOOR OPENS IN SPAIN
Wood, looking for his first European Tour victory, opened the door for Clarke with bogeys on the second and third holes. He got a stroke back at the fourth and at the turn was still two up on Clarke, who was paired with Jose Maria Olazabal (who designed Pula), one group ahead of Wood and Shane Lowry.
Birdies were in short supply amidst the wind in Sunday's final round and Clarke did well to avoid any bogeys over the front nine, while getting a birdie at the third hole when he chipped in. But a waterball at 11 led to a double bogey that suggested heartbreak for Clarke.
Wood obliged, however, with bogeys at 12 and 13; when Clarke reeled off consecutive birdies at 14 and 15, they were all square. The birdie at 14 was particularly fortuitous, as he putted in from the fringe.
From there on, Clarke had only to maintain a steady hand while Wood crumbled with bogeys at 15, 16 and 17. Again, Clarke displayed a deft touch, putting in from off the green with a fairway wood at 17 for par.
The victory was the 20th in Clarke's professional career and his 13th on the European Tour. He credited a vacation to the Bahamas with an attitude adjustment that enabled him to find the winner's circle after a long dry spell.
"I just had a really good time, very relaxed and worked on my game," Clarke said of his sojourn. "Sometimes you need to step back and take a look at things from a different perspective and that's what I did in the Bahamas.
"A bit of a monkey to get off my back after going three years without winning. I had a few chances [over the years] and sort of spurned them away. I'm playing nicely, I'm very pleased, everything seems to be coming back into place after years of trying to find it."
McDowell appeared to have been resurrected at Sawgrass from a blah winter spell. But just as quickly as everything fell his way, the tables turned and he was in freefall, a la Rory McIlroy.
McDowell started quickly, shooting 67 in Thursday's first round, suffering only one bogey and carding an eagle-3 at 16. He even managed to finish Friday's round three strokes under par at 69, despite a double bogey and two bogeys on the back nine. Seven birdies helped mask those blemishes.
The third round ran into delays on Saturday and was completed on Sunday morning. Birdies at 16 and 17 (the famed island green) put McDowell three strokes up, but that lead dwindled to a stroke when his approach shot at 18, played down the right fairway away from the water on the left, careened across the green after an odd bounce and started downhill toward the pond. Although the ball initially gained momentum as it journeyed downward, it was slowing to a trickle at the water's edge, where it plopped in.
"You know, that ball just kind of had one of those sling-shot moments, where it just got to the top and rode the slope and had maximum pace, which it needed to, to kind of get over that little collar," McDowell said by way of explanation.
McDowell went out as part of a trio that afternoon with David Toms and K.J. Choi. Four bogeys, punctuated by a double at 17 rendered a score of 79 for the round. That left him eight strokes off his playing partners, who shared medal honors after 72 holes. Choi won the playoff at 17 on the first extra hole.