King Abdullah Economic City, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell held off the chasing pack with a masterful back nine to claim the 2020 Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers.
McDowell took a one-shot lead into the final round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club and the 40-year-old used all of his 18 years’ experience on Tour in a closing round of 70 to finish at 12 under – two shots clear of defending champion Dustin Johnson.
The Northern Irishman ground his way to a front nine of 36, but his fortunes changed around the turn with back-to-back birdies on the 14th and 15th holes that gave him a cushion at the top of the leaderboard. The veteran then used all his golfing nous to safely negotiate the treacherous seaside par-three 16th and challenging final two holes in level par, to close out for a superb victory.
McDowell’s 16th worldwide win, spanning 12 different countries, was his first European Tour victory since the 2014 Open de France and takes the former U.S Open Champion back into the world’s top 50.
“I’m very excited and very relieved,” said McDowell. “The birdies on 14 and 15 were huge at the time. This is a difficult golf course. It’s unusual to win feeling as uncomfortable as I did on a lot of these holes because it’s a tough course in tough conditions. This is huge, world-class field with the world number one with massive World Ranking points.
“It’s been 10 years since I won a US Open, 10 years probably since I played the best golf of my life. I feel like I’m moving back in the right direction.”
Runner-up Johnson made a strong defence of a title he won 12 months ago but will rue a series of missed putts in his closing three-under 67 that included an outrageous chip in eagle on the fourth hole.
“I’m pleased with the way I played, but I would have liked to given Graeme a little more pressure coming down the stretch,” said Johnson. “It was really hard to make putts – but I hit a lot of really good shots.”
Popular American Phil Mickelson started his final round with a bang with three birdies in his first four holes before finishing his debut in the Kingdom with three-under 67 to finish tied runner up on nine-under.
“It was so fun to be back in the mix,” said 49-year old Mickelson. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention. It’s been a while since I’ve been playing well and it feels really good. It was fun coming down the stretch to feel the nervousness and the excitement. The course is spectacular. I’m very pleasantly surprised at what a quality golf course this is, because I know there’s a lot of growth for the game here.”
Big hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters found his best form of the week with a 65 which saw him finish in a share of third with Mickelson and Malaysian Gavin Green.
Green was still in contention after a solid front nine which saw birdies at the second and sixth holes – but bogeys on the 10th and 11th meant he was playing catch-up to McDowell despite finishing a superb week in Saudi Arabia with a brilliant eagle on the 17th.
McDowell’s final group partner, Victor Dubuisson, started the day at 11 under and one off the lead – but the Frenchman never got going on Sunday with a back nine 39 to finish with a 74. World number one Brooks Koepka ended his week with a 72 to finish his second appearance at the Saudi International on four under. Low round of the day came from Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal who came home in 30 shots for a six under 64.
The third edition of the Saudi International returns in 2021 with McDowell confirming his intention to defend his title. “It’s my first time in Saudi Arabia and the set-up of the course was magnificent. It’s been a brilliant event and can’t wait to return next year,” said McDowell.