Arnold Palmer Invitational 2012: Why Graeme McDowell Has Game To Take Down Tiger

Scott SemmlerAnalyst IIMarch 24, 2012

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 24:  Graeme McDowell of Ireland plays a shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tiger Woods' game is unofficially back, after a one-under-par 71 on Day 3 at Bay Hill, but if there is one player in the field that can take down Woods in a final round, it is a laid back, gritty and intelligent player like Graeme McDowell.

McDowell is not a player to be messed with on the PGA Tour. His victory at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach proved that. He is well-respected among his opponents, which is why a 63 in the second round followed by a sturdy 71 on Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational has drawn some attention this week.

Make no mistake, Woods will be looking over his shoulder on Sunday. After scoring a double-bogey on the 15th hole after one of the worst drives we have ever seen Woods hit in his career, McDowell caught him atop the leaderboard with a birdie on the 17th hole moments later.

Woods takes a one-shot lead heading into the final round on Sunday.

However, when McDowell is on his game, he is one of the best in the world. He has one of the more consistent shots on the PGA Tour (a short fade) that he continues to succeed with, as well as his usual driving accuracy off the tee.

His win at Pebble Beach during the U.S. Open in 2010 had many wondering how far he could climb up the world golf rankings. But after his stunning 2010 season, he faltered hard in 2011, crediting his slump to too much golf and not enough rest. It was quite the opposite of Woods, who has complained about not enough golf and not enough rest for the past two-and-a-half years.

Woods and McDowell are literally total opposites of each other on and off the golf course, and yet they will be paired up with each other on Sunday at Bay Hill.

However, there is a clear trend that McDowell has when he plans on being in contention deep into Sundays of tournaments. He tends to score really low in either the second or third rounds, and Friday was no different with his 63.

His casual 71 on Saturday will set the table for him on Sunday.

In his eight career victories on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, McDowell has scored a 66 or lower in two of the first three rounds in five of those tournaments. In two of the other three victories, he lasted days of grueling conditions for a decent scores of around 69, setting himself up for the win on Sunday.

Not to mention that in 2010 at the Chevron World Challenge, McDowell outlasted his competitor this Sunday, Woods, in a playoff.

It all makes sense in one way or another. McDowell tallied a 71 on Saturday, equaling Woods, who is now just one shot ahead of the field.

But two other characteristics of both McDowell's and Woods' games need to be considered on Sunday at Bay Hill. McDowell seems to have Woods' number, especially in final rounds, with the most recent coming at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge. Also, how tested is Woods in final rounds since 2009?

It is useless discussing Woods' final round mentality. He is the best in the history of the game when it comes to Sundays of any golf tournament. However, his recent stretch of final-round failures has some waiting to decide whether his golf game is truly back.

On Sunday, we will find out.

Will McDowell's cool and calm demeanor continue to reign over Woods? Or will Woods succeed in a final round with the lead in his hands entering Sunday?

Sometimes that cool and calm demeanor, as well as a sense of ownage on another player succeeds, and we will see that prevail on Sunday at Bay Hill.