Graeme McDowell produced a final round four-under-par 67 to lead home the field by four strokes and become the first Northern Irishman to win the French Open on a thrilling final day at Le Golf National on Sunday.
The 2010 US Open winner finished the tournament with a nine-under-par total of 275 as an initially tense final round eventually became a one man show with McDowell cantering home to pick up a winner’s check of 500,000 euros (US$641,000).
His closest rival, Richard Sterne of South Africa, held the lead after nine holes before collapsing down the stretch and finishing with three bogeys in six holes while McDowell’s rock-solid game of just four bogeys throughout the tournament was the cornerstone of his second win of the year.
Sterne settled for second on five-under-par 279.
Englishman Graeme Storm and Spaniard Eduardo De La Riva were paired together for the final round and both men fired two-under-par 69s to claim a share of third spot on four under.
“I’ve always felt that this golf course is one I can get around well. And coming into this week has been a bit strange for me, too many missed cuts and a little bit inconsistent,” McDowell said. “I felt my confidence coming back and hit the ball beautifully Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And today [Sunday] I was very realistic about my chances.”
“Myself and Richard [Sterne] kind of dragged each other along there. He played really, really well and I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day. The way he was playing kind of inspired me to play better and it was a really good battle with him,” McDowell added.
“The turning point was probably [holes] 15 and 16. Fifteen was an average putt that I thought missed and it went in and sixteen I still don’t know how it went in. It was a right to left putt, but I think the crowd sucked it in. I’m a very proud French Open winner,” McDowell said.
Sterne led by one shot after nine see-saw holes before McDowell birdied the 10th to draw level and looked on as the South African drove his tee shot on 11 into the deep rough.
With no clear sight of the green, Sterne did well to get within 40 feet of the pin before getting down in two for his first bogey of the afternoon, putting McDowell back in the driving seat on eight under.
The 31-year-old from Pretoria looked certain to lose more ground at 13 when he sliced his second shot into the water, but a fine approach shot and a 25 footer to save par kept him one back.
McDowell, who was looking for his sixth win in eight stroke play tournaments when leading after three rounds, and Sterne then headed toward what most players have described as the toughest four finishing holes on the European Tour.
Both players parred 15 before the par three 16th produced another swing in fortune for McDowell.
His tee shot missed the green before a lucky bounce left his ball in a position from where he was able to two putt for par.
Sterne, meanwhile, showed the pressure was taking it’s toll when he missed a 10 foot putt for par and his second bogey in five holes handed McDowell a two-shot lead with two holes to play. He never looked back.
McDowell’s win follows his triumph earlier this year at the Volvo World Match Play Championship and puts him in second place in The Race to Dubai on 1,530,715 euros, just 27,185 behind US Open champion Justin Rose.