CASARES, Spain – A scintillating display of shot making? Not exactly. Gritty street fight? Absolutely. But as an audition for whom Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal would like to see over a clutch putt at Medinah come September, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia both fluffed their lines Saturday afternoon at the World Match Play Championship.
McDowell stabbed at, and missed, a five-foot putt to win the match at the 18th. Garcia returned the compliment as they played the 18th again, handing victory to McDowell on the first playoff hole. It was not so much a sudden death playoff as a long, drawn-out, painful one.
“We’re in Spain, but that wasn’t exactly El Clasico,” McDowell said. “But I got the job done. I feel like I dodged a bullet there in the playoff.”
This was the stellar match of the quarterfinals. The Spaniard who failed to make Colin Montgomerie’s 2010 Ryder Cup team versus the Northern Irishman who holed the winning putt. The Cheerleader versus the Hero. It was a fascinating tussle. A Scrap in the Scrub rather than a Duel in the Sun.
Those who hiked around Finca Cortesin hoping to be wowed most certainly were, but not in the way they were expecting. What they witnessed was a fabulous battle as both players fought a 30-mph wind while battling each other and their own demons, patience and swing faults. There were dreadful missed putts, flailing arms letting go of drivers, chunked irons, shots left in bunkers, and temper tantrums. Golf not at its finest but no less gripping – a shabby affair for quality but there is no doubting the fighting quality and fire in the belly of McDowell and Garcia.
Garcia’s Kevin Na-like yips have long been ironed out, but his pre-shot routines are still all twitches and waggles and nervous tics and tugs of his pants and shirt. Then whoosh.
McDowell, by contrast, whiffs a couple of gentle practice swings before standing solid behind the ball. Then whoosh. When they get it right, they are two of the finest ball-strikers in the game.
When they get it wrong, stand well back, these two are feisty fellows.
McDowell’s frustrations were to snap first. The fact that it took until the 11th hole is testament to his powers of concentration and restraint considering how poorly he was playing. He pulled his approach to the green into a grassy knoll, and any Irish American could have told him what would happen next. Bang. He smashed his iron into the turf in a fit of fury. Ah, the fine margins between perfection and rage. Five yards to the right and his ball would have trickled down a slope toward the hole. He then missed a putt to allow Garcia to level the match.
Struggling with his putter, too, McDowell stayed on the green for a practice while Garcia strode off to the 12th tee. He took four five-footers before he holed one. He stomped off up the hill to the tee huffing and puffing and shaking his head. All that practice paid off at the par 3. He holed from six feet for par to regain a one-hole lead again.
Their troubles began on the front nine with back-to-back concessions. At the seventh, Garcia was perched half in and half out of a bunker and slammed his ball into the lip of the sand trap, and his ball rolled back to his feet. Just to prove the first shot wasn’t a fluke, he did it again. McDowell 1 up.
At the very next hole, McDowell handed back the gift with his own comedy of errors. After a wayward drive, he grimaced like Popeye as his ball headed for the bushes. He’s got Popeye’s forearms, too, and when he found his ball in the spinach he thrashed at it with a wood from the side of a hill. It spat out left into more trouble. Hole to Garcia. Match all square.
They teamed up to for a calamitous caper at the short par-4 ninth. First Garcia watched as McDowell spun a wedge off the front of the green. Then the Spaniard stepped up to send his wedge shot zipping through the back into a hollow. Garcia compounded his error by missing a par putt from 10 feet. McDowell stumbled to a par to win the hole.
“Neither of us played very well,” McDowell said. “Sometimes you just have to win ugly.”
McDowell’s Sunday morning semifinal opponent is another Spaniard, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who defeated Alvaro Quiros, 3 and 1. Paul Lawrie will play Nicolas Colsaerts. The Scot beat Retief Goosen, 6 and 5, in their quarterfinal, while the Belgian ended Brandt Snedeker’s Spanish adventure, 4 and 3.