Graeme McDowell was as surprised as anyone to find himself in a third-round match today against Hunter Mahan in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Three-down with three to play against Gary Woodland on Wednesday, McDowell won the last three holes of regulation then won the 19th hole to slip the match-play noose on the first day.
Two holes down to the marvelously talented Hideki Matsuyama after just two holes in the second round, McDowell walked to the third tee “thinking this is déjà vu.”
He was right.
Two-down with four to play against Matsuyama, McDowell won three of the last four holes to escape again.
He doesn’t belong on the PGA Tour. He belongs in Las Vegas.
“I feel very, very fortunate to be standing here,” McDowell said after beating Matsuyama with a par on the 18th hole. “I thought I was dead and buried, less so today than (Wednesday). I figured there was still a glimmer of hope today. But I hung in, hung tough.”
Match play golf is unpredictable. That’s part of its charm.
Rory McIlroy made three straight birdies on the back nine to force extra holes with Harris English and then kicked it away with a scruffy double bogey on the first extra hole.
Justin Rose went 24 holes without a birdie but won one match and went extra holes before losing to Ernie Els.
Some guys – Jim Furyk and Webb Simpson – have won twice without reaching the 18th hole.
When asked if he’d have preferred an easier path, McDowell was content with how he survived the first two days.
“I guess I’d rather (be) me, not from an emotional and energy point of view but, let’s be honest, it’s early in the season,” McDowell said. “To have gone under pressure and to have that belief you can do it under pressure, I feel like the last couple of years I’ve come down these last few holes and I feel like all my matches went to 17 or 18 last year. I’m trying to enjoy it, trying to relish it.
“I’m trying to use this as something real to draw on for the rest of the season, putting your golf swing under pressure. It’s like Sunday afternoon out there Wednesday and Thursday. It’s great.”