For the first three days of the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, China, Graeme McDowell was very much in command. The first three days of a golf tournament however, are like the first 25 miles of a marathon, with all the contenders hanging around until someone sprints the fastest to the finish.
The World Golf Championships events are four world-wide events (the others being the Cadillac Championship, the Cadillac Matchplay and the Bridgestone Invitational) that offer massive purses with the idea being that they attract the strongest fields in golf. Additionally, it allows the professional game to be showcased in remote golf destinations like Shanghai.
In status, the players treat these events as much more important than a regular PGA Tour event, but not quite as prestigious as winning a Major. Players qualify by virtue of their world ranking so players from all of the Tours around the world qualify by virtue of their Rolex world ranking. In doing so, players from the Asian and Australian Tours, who we may not see regularly in the US, have opportunities to burst onto the global golf stage.
Winning WGC events earns a player money on the PGA Tour’s money list and also counts towards their FedEx Cup points.
Late into the final round on Sunday there were five players still in with a chance to win including McDowell, who was one over par for the day and 10-under for the tournament. He was tied at 10-under with Tim Clark, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler and unknown Japanese player Hiroshi Iwata.
33 year old Iwata is one of those unheralded players who we alluded to earlier. He has played the Japan Tour for the last 10 years and broke through for his first win on that circuit in September of this year. That win in the Fujisankei Classic qualified Iwata for the HSBC Champions. Iwata would finish in a tie for 3rd place.
Leading by two shots over that pack and standing on the 16th tee was Bubba Watson who is without doubt the most electric and unpredictable player in the game. In classic “what will Bubba do next?” style, the 36 year old American made a careless bogey on the short par-4 16th to fall back to 11-under but still with a one shot lead.
But Bubba was just warming up. Watson made a disastrous double bogey on the par-3 17th when he left his first shot out of the greenside bunker in the bunker, and then was unable to get up and down with his second attempt to blunder in the worst possible way.
In the blink of an eye, Watson had turned a two shot lead into a two shot deficit.
While this was happening, South Africa’s Clark made a closing birdie 4 on the par-5 18th that gave him the outright lead at 11-under par.
The normally fidgety Watson was by now wired like an electric eel as he played the last hole. Watson hit his second shot to the par-5 into a bunker 60 yards from the pin. Quite naturally, Watson holed the shot for an eagle-3 to tie Clark for the lead.
The other players at 10-under were unable to birdie the last hole so Clark and Watson headed to a two-man playoff.
If you think that you have guessed how that ended up, you are probably correct. Watson made a 20 foot putt for a birdie on the first hole of sudden death to win his first WGC championship and his 7th PGA Tour victory.
Watson now moves up to 3rd on the Rolex world rankings which is the highest he has ever been and makes him the top ranked American. It also caps off a spectacular 2014 for the wacky lefty giving him his third win of the year after winning the Northern Trust Open and his second Masters title.
When asked why fans find him so intriguing, the chameleon that is Watson said that: ”They never know what they’re going to get.” Never more so than in Shanghai this week.