McDowell shot a 2-over-74 on Sunday to finish in second place, while Woods shot a 2-under-70 to capture his first official PGA Tour win in 924 days. McDowell has been playing great golf over the past month and is looking to capture his first official win since 2010.
Here are five reasons McDowell will win this week at Arnie's place:
In addition to his victory over McDowell in the final round of the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods bettered McDowell two weeks ago with a dominant performance in the final two rounds of the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Woods and McDowell have developed something of a rivalry since McDowell defeated Woods in a playoff at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge. Woods has won at Bay Hill seven times before and will likely be in contention again this week on Sunday. McDowell has never backed down from Woods in the past, and the feisty Northern Irishman would like nothing more than to get a little revenge against Tiger this week for these recent tournament defeats.
McDowell, the 15th-ranked player in the world, has been flying under the radar despite playing very consistent golf as of late. His last three PGA Tour starts include three head-to-head wins at the WGC-Accenture Match Play before a loss to Jason Day in the quarterfinals, a T-9th at the Honda Classic three weeks ago, and a T-3rd in his last start at the Cadillac Championship. McDowell's season scoring average of 69.081 ranks fifth overall on the PGA Tour, and he's played well over the past month in all facets of the game.
While G-Mac has never been the longest hitter on tour, he's always been one of the most accurate drivers of the golf ball. McDowell ranks second on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy in 2013, hitting just under 73 percent of fairways off the tee. That accuracy off the tee will be the key for McDowell at Arnold Palmer's course this week.
There's a good chance of rain, in addition to windy conditions, at Bay Hill this weekend, and keeping the ball in the fairway will provide McDowell with plenty of chances to make birdies. Keeping big numbers of his scorecard will also be crucial for McDowell this week, and his driving accuracy combined with his scrambling ability (G-Mac ranks second on tour in scrambling in 2013) will allow McDowell to grind out tough pars throughout the tournament.
4. Home-Field Advantage
McDowell is one of the many PGA Tour players who reside in Florida, but his Lake Nona home is just 20 minutes from the Bay Hill course. Sleeping in his own bed during the tournament gives McDowell a nice edge that shouldn't be overlooked. McDowell loves the Lake Nona-Orlando region and just opened an upscale sports bar and restaurant in the area last week. The Arnold Palmer Invitational is as close to a home game as McDowell gets in America, and he's had success on this track in the past with runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2012.
5. He's Due for a W
McDowell's last two worldwide wins were both unofficial, coming at the World Challenge, an 18-player reduced field tournament held in December, in 2010 and 2012. His last three official victories came in 2010 when McDowell captured the Celtic Manor Wales Open, U.S. Open, and Andalucía Masters over a five-month stretch. McDowell also famously won his singles match over Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor to give Europe the 2010 Ryder Cup.
But McDowell has not won an official worldwide event in 2 1/2 years despite being one of the most talented golfers in the world. His 2012 season consisted of three runner-up finishes, including a tie for second at the U.S. Open, and top-12 finishes in all four majors. His unofficial win at the end of the 2012 season in the World Challenge gave McDowell the taste of victory for the first time in quite a while, but McDowell is overdue for an official PGA Tour victory.
The 19th Hole
Bay Hill isn't an easy course. With rain expected to collide with the usual difficult Florida winds, it will be tough for any player to reach 10-under-par for the week. McDowell's accuracy off the tee and scrambling skills will give him the edge at Arnie's place. G-Mac is due for a victory, and winning in a near-home game over a field that includes Tiger Woods would be a great way for McDowell to enter the heart of the golf season.
Expect Graeme McDowell to be shaking hands with Mr. Palmer come Sunday night.
Bob James is a Boston-area law student and sports journalist/blogger with a passion for golf. Bob has worked in the past for a number of sites and publications including Examiner and Bleacher Report.
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