As expected, the final of the 48th staging of the Volvo World Match Play Championship at the extremely beautiful Thracian Cliffs produced a master-class of short game skills from Graeme McDowell and Thongchai Jaidee. As early as the first hole with Jaidee bunkered off the tee, a delightful up-and-down from off the green rescued a half for the Thai after McDowell had registered a regulation par.
On the short second, another good putt from the underdog resulted in a birdie and an early lead. This was only the second time McDowell had been behind all week. Regulation pars at the third brought the players to the back-to-back par 5s, both of which the Northern Irishman had birdied on each occasion since the knock-out stages began. This time it was not to be as his par at the fourth doubled his opponent’s lead. At the next, a wayward second shot into the flowers meant it looked as though McDowell would lose another, but following his penalty drop he holed a very important putt for a half. This was uncharacteristic play from the 2010 US Open champion who up until the final had been powering into healthy leads on the front nine.
McDowell’s first-ever win on the European Tour was the Volvo Scandinavian Masters back in 2002 in the week of his 23rd birthday. Since then he has won all over the world, most recently at Hilton Head in the States just four weeks ago. At the seventh, he recorded his first birdie of the afternoon to reduce the deficit to one, and pars at the next two meant they had reached the turn without a bogey between them. Two more pars followed at ten and eleven as the tension mounted and it seemed the pressure was just starting to get to the two finalists.
43 year-old Jaidee was a relative latecomer to the world of golf, not turning professional until he was 30. He was subsequently the first Thai golfer to win on the European Tour when he triumphed at the 2004 Malaysian Open, a title which he successfully defended the following year.
On the twelfth hole, both players missed the green with their approach shots, but McDowell hit a delightful chip right next to the hole to level the match. Interestingly, he then chose to take an iron off the thirteenth which resulted in both players being on the fairway but with Jaidee 70 years closer to the hole. Despite that, 2-putt pars meant it was all-square with just five holes to play. With pressure still increasing, Jaidee pulled his tee shot at fourteen into the bushes on the left and could only manage to chip out sideways. With McDowell safely on the green in two, a par was enough to take him into the lead for the first time. This seemed to be just the prompt that he needed and a solid birdie at the next put him 2-up with just three to play.
The lead was just the cushion needed and two halved holes at sixteen and seventeen meant that 33 year-old Graeme McDowell picked up the winner’s cheque for €800,000 at the same time as qualifying for the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions. Jaidee was gracious in defeat saying, “For me to come second, that’s good for me. To come second is big as this is a very good tournament. It’s so good to be here, so thank you Volvo for the chance to come here.”
McDowell was thrilled to win this historic event for the first time, and as he inspected the trophy afterwards, he said “I see Montgomerie and Westwood just popping off the trophy at me – great European Tour legends, the history of this event is fantastic. To have your name on a trophy this cool is pretty special.”
Now in its 50th year, the Volvo World Match Play Championship has a new name to add to its roll-call of great names. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els… and now, Graeme McDowell.