ORLANDO, Fla. – Graeme McDowell has played perhaps as many meaningful rounds of golf with Tiger Woods as anyone over the last few years, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was watching from the gallery behind the ropes.
On Wednesday, prior to this year’s edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McDowell recalled attending this event in 2001, when Woods won his second of seven titles here.
“He hits in the left rough off the tee,” McDowell said of Woods’ drive on 18 that Sunday. “Hits a 6 iron to about 15 feet and makes the putt. That was kind of one of the first shots I'd ever seen him hit kind of in the flesh. … I think I was still an amateur or whatever, and I was just here visiting some friends. We came across the tournament and drank a couple cold beers and watched Tiger hit an amazing shot to the last. That was my first experience.”
Four years later, he was back at Bay Hill, but as a competitor, not a spectator. McDowell finished in a share of second place, two strokes behind Kenny Perry.
“Me finishing second here in 2005 was a bit of a springboard for me in many ways,” he explained. “I got my PGA Tour card in 2006, didn't use it very effectively, but used that as a time to acclimatize myself here in the States and made Orlando my home. This is an event that's pretty close to my heart for many, many reasons.”
Those early years led to last year, when he again finished in second place, this time behind the man he watched win when he attended the event as an amateur.
“I watched a display of discipline,” McDowell said of his final-round playing partner. “Conservative at times, but firing away from pins, just disciplined golf that, like I say, when the golf course gets tougher, the guy is able to slip into a gear where he plays aggressive golf to conservative targets. I don't like having to play with him on Sunday afternoons and having to lose to him, but when he's playing well, he's hard to beat – especially when the golf course is as difficult as this one was last year on Sunday afternoon.”