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After Saudi win, McDowell hopes best golf still to come as he sets lofty goals

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Shortly after Graeme McDowell starting working with new swing coach Kevin Kirk last August, Kirk said to the veteran, "There's no reason why the best golf in your career can't still be ahead of you."

McDowell is living up to those words.

The 40-year-old Northern Irishman, almost 10 years removed from his 2010 U.S. Open victory and his self-proclaimed best golf, McDowell topped an elite field by two shots Sunday at the Saudi International. The victory at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club gave McDowell his first European Tour title since 2014 and figures to vault McDowell back inside the top 50 in the world.

That was McDowell's goal – well, at least since August.

"It hasn't even been on the radar probably until about six months ago when I really started feeling like I was turning the corner," said McDowell, who did win last year in the Dominican Republic, though that was a PGA Tour opposite-field event and lacked the type of star power that gathered in Saudi Arabia (world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia).

"The win in the Dominican last year on the PGA Tour was huge, just to keep my job in the right place, you know, to give me a job to go to for the foreseeable future. Once I had that ticked off, it was a case of, 'Right, how do I start getting better? How do I get myself back to where I want to be?' ... This is huge – world-class field, No. 1 player in the world here, massive to win, massive world-ranking points, and like I say, hopefully I can kick it on into the season."

McDowell back to 'business end' of pro golf thanks to Saudi win

McDowell back to 'business end' of pro golf thanks to Saudi win

Shortly after his win, McDowell was projected to rise from No. 104 to No. 46 in the world rankings, per Twitter's OWGR expert Nosferatu. Of course, should he maintain that top-50 ranking the rest of the year, McDowell will get into all the WGCs and major championships. Before Sunday, McDowell was qualified for only the U.S. Open.

"We were trying to plan an Easter holiday the weekend of the Masters," McDowell said. "That may have to go on hold now."

He also is projected to rise to seventh in the European Ryder Cup team's world points list. McDowell hasn't played a Ryder Cup since 2014, but now he becomes Europe's second Ryder Cup veteran to make a serious push toward automatic qualification, joining Abu Dhabi winner Lee Westwood.

Westwood texted McDowell on Saturday evening to wish him good luck and remind him what a victory could do for McDowell's chances of making the squad for Whistling Straits later this year.

"I guess we didn't really enjoy the vice captaincy thing in Paris," McDowell said. "I would love to be on the team, but there's a lot of things that need to happen between now and then before I get myself on the team. I'm a little like Lee; I want to play my way on to the team and I don't want to have to rely on that pick, but we'll see."

Full-field scores from the Saudi International

And then there is the possibility of the Olympics. If McDowell passes Shane Lowry, who entered the week as Ireland's second qualifier at No. 18 in the world, or gets inside the top 15 when selections are made, he would qualify for the Tokyo Games this summer.

McDowell knows all that could come this year, but more than anything he just wants back in that elite sector of the game – and to give his kids some more non-YouTube highlights to watch.

"My goal is to get back in the top 20 in the world and to be competing," McDowell said. "I want another chance at a major championship on the back nine on a Sunday. This is all the steps. It's a lofty goal. There's going to be a lot of steps between here and now, but this really gives me the kick-on that I need."