When Tiger Woods crashed his SUV, at 2:30 a.m. in the morning on Nov. 27, 2009, it completely changed the lives of two professional golfers: Tiger himself, and Graeme McDowell.
By now, everyone knows the Tiger story of infidelity, sex addiction rehab, lost endorsements, divorce and the apparent loss of the unbelievable talent that has allowed him to win 14 majors and 71 PGA Tour events. However, not everyone knows the other side of this story, or the silver lining, if you will.
The then 30-year-old Graeme McDowell from Northern Ireland was the 55th ranked player in the world, and was playing the World Cup in China when he heard about the shocking allegations of Tiger Woods' world falling apart. He had planned to head home to Florida, and take the rest of the year off, when he was offered to take Tiger's place in the Chevron World Challenge, hosted annually by Woods.
McDowell was a surprising addition to the tournament, as normally invites were given to the defending champion, the top 11 players in the world, and four sponsors exemptions. 2009 was also the first year that the tournament counted for world ranking points. McDowell took advantage of his opportunity, and placed second, just behind Jim Furyk, which vaulted him to 38th in the world, and secured him a place in the 2010 Masters.
While G-Mac, and he is sometimes called, struggled to a plus-five and missed cut at the Masters, he managed to stay in the top-50 rankings, and earned an invitation to the US Open. Once the pressure was off, of securing his place in the US Open, McDowell won the European Tour's Wales Open on June 6, then headed to Pebble Beach.
McDowell started strong, and held the lead going into the weekend, before Dustin Johnson shot the lights out on Saturday, and G-Mac was second heading into the final round.
Johnson was plus-five in the first three holes to fall out of contention, and McDowell found himself alone in top spot. He avoided Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who were chasing him from two and four strokes behind, respectively, and fended off late challenges from 1994 and 1997 champion Ernie Els, and relatively unknown French player Gregory Havret.
McDowell shot up the rankings to 13th in the world with his US Open victory, and then just kept climbing. At the 2010 Ryder Cup, held at Celtic Manor Resort, in Wales, McDowell took three and a half of a possible four points, including sinking the Cup-winning putt for Team Europe!
On Oct. 31, McDowell wrapped up the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, and in December was named the European Tour Player of the Year, along with German Martin Kaymer.
McDowell's magical season wrapped up, right back where it all started, Tiger's Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, in stunningly ironic fashion. Tiger looked like the Tiger of old, posting three straight rounds in the 60s to open the tournament, and taking a four-shot lead into the final day. Tiger had never lost a lead of three or more strokes on a Sunday, and many assumed it was over.
G-Mac had other ideas, and made an incredible 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force a playoff with Woods. On the first playoff hole, McDowell sunk another miraculous putt from 25 feet, and, when Woods missed from 15 feet, the championship was his!
Woods was kept from winning a tournament all season, for the first time in his career, and helped create perhaps his most dangerous foe. McDowell wouldn't have even qualified for the US Open if it hadn't been for the shocking downfall of Woods, and the now seventh ranked golfer in the world looks to be a threat for years to come.
Maybe G-Mac should send Tiger a Christmas card and a cocktail waitress to say thanks.