Charmed run continues for McDowell, Match Play's ultimate sleeper pick

2014-02-21T00:00:00Z 2014-02-21T00:29:25Z Charmed run continues for McDowell, Match Play's ultimate sleeper pickBy Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Graeme McDowell spent Thursday night celebrating. After hitting a bucket of balls at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, the Irishman tucked into a dinner at Li’l Abners, took a cold bath — “to get the toxins out of the body,” he said — and stretched out on his bed to rest.

“I’m a pretty good sleeper,” he said.

In fact, McDowell might be the biggest sleeper in The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

For the second time in as many days, “G-Mac” pulled a victory out of the fire on the back nine and survived to see another day — and eat another steak — in Tucson. McDowell won the final two holes to defeat Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama 1 up and advance to the round of 16.

The golf gods have helped McDowell through his first two matches. Could it be destiny?

McDowell opened Match Play on Wednesday with another come-from-behind win, taking holes No.  16-18 to pull even with Gary Woodland. He dispatched the Kansan with a win on their first sudden-death hole.

Over 37 holes this week, McDowell has been all-square for just four of them. Although he leads the field with 13 birdies through two rounds, McDowell has led just twice: at the end of both matches.

“I’ve certainly expended all my energy and emotions the last couple days,” he said. “But thankfully it’s early in the season, and I’ve got plenty left in the tank.”

McDowell is 34, a winner of two PGA Tour events and nine tournaments in Europe. And although he’s decades away from Champions Tour status, he’s aware of his age.

McDowell said he’s trying to make better decisions, both on and off the course.

He spent the offseason working out and slimming down, in part to keep up with his younger opponents. Thursday’s opponent, Matsuyama, is 20 years old; today’s foe, Hunter Mahan, is 31.

McDowell won’t ever be confused for a physical specimen, but he certainly looks lighter and leaner this year.

“I enjoy a few glasses of red wine, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’ve made a few decisions: I’ve cut back on a little golf course activity, I’ve tried to up my fitness regime and get leaner and fitter just to try to be ready for August and September this year.

“These are things I’m working on.”

Today’s match won’t get any easier. McDowell will take on Mahan, the 2012 Match Play champion and 2013 runner-up, with a chance to advance to the tournament’s round of eight. Mahan survived an upset bid by Richard Sterne on Thursday, defeating the 16th-seeded South African 2 and 1.

Mahan knows what he’s in for.

“I mean, Graeme is a great player. Obviously very tough,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a challenge. I look forward to it. And I love playing in this event, so it’ll be fun.”

McDowell compared his first two wins to “a good workout.” There will be more heavy lifting today.

“Why do it the easy way,” he said, “when the hard way will do?”

Match Play tee times for Friday's round of 16

Tee timePlayer (seed)Player (seed)
10:55 a.m.Harris English (36)Jim Furyk (20)
11:07 a.m.Sergio Garcia (6)Rickie Fowler (53)
11:19 a.m.Hunter Mahan (30)Graeme McDowell (14)
11:31 a.m.Victor Dubuisson (27)Bubba Watson (11)
11:43 a.m.Louis Oosthuizen (32)Webb Simpson (17)
11:55 a.m.Jason Day (8)George Coetzee (56)
12:07 p.m.Ernie Els (31)Jason Dufner (15)
12:19 p.m.Matt Kuchar (7)Jordan Spieth (10)

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