KAPALUA - He called one exciting. Another satisfying. And the last, well, that was just icing on the cake.
It's difficult to select a favorite moment of 2010 for Graeme McDowell, the 31-year-old from Northern Ireland who captivated golf fans across the world last year with his clutch putts and is trying to get off to a strong start in his first year as a PGA Tour member this week at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
"Obviously one of my goals is to win a PGA Tour event as a PGA Tour member," he said following a 5-under-par 68 at the Kapalua Plantation Course on Friday that left him at 7-under 139 and seven shots off the pace. "I'm excited about it, I'm excited about the way my game is, the way my game's improving. I feel like I'm getting better and better all the time."
Graeme McDowell walks off the second green Friday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
In June at Pebble Beach, McDowell became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open - for his first-ever victory on the PGA Tour, no less.
His October encore was sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th green of Celtic Manor in the Ryder Cup's final match and eventually defeating Hunter Mahan 3 and 1 to give the Europeans a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory over the U.S.
As if he hadn't done enough, McDowell snatched Tiger Woods' first victory in more than 12 months from the 14-time major winner's formerly iron-clad grip, first delivering yet another jaw-dropping 20-footer on the 18th hole at the Chevron World Challenge in December to force a playoff and subsequently draining a slightly longer putt to win it.
All in all, not too shabby.
"The most exciting moment of the year is probably the Ryder Cup, 16th green. The most satisfying moment of the year was the 18th green at Pebble. So they were very different, the two of them," McDowell said. "One of them was very emotionally charged and the other one was very personally satisfying.
"You work your (butt) off for a major championship and it feels pretty cool when that first one comes along."
Now, he's trying to temper his expectations, knowing that duplicating last season won't be easy.
"Big year last year, you can't really expect dream stuff to keep happening," he said. "It's a tough game and I could play exactly the same this year and not get the same rewards."
Traversing the Plantation Course for the first time this week, McDowell shot a 2-under 71 on a perfect scoring day in the opening round, but recorded six birdies against just one bogey on Friday to move into a tie for 13th.
"This game you've just got to stay patient, you never know what's around the corner," he said. "All you can do is just keep chipping away at it, keep working hard and the rewards will come."
McDowell may have burst onto the scene for many fans at Pebble Beach, but saying the six-time winner on the European Tour came out of nowhere isn't quite right - something U.S. Ryder Cup player Bubba Watson knows well.
"He's been here before last year. If anybody knew about the game of golf, they knew him before last year," Watson said. "But obviously he stepped up his game. He won a major, then he won some other events and then played great at the Ryder Cup. So to me, and to the fellow golfers, he's not an up-and-comer, he's always been here. He's just now winning."
Watson expects it to continue, too.
"All it takes is momentum," he said. "When you get momentum going your way, and that's obviously what he got and he made some putts and produces a win and then produces more wins and then produces his team win in the Ryder Cup.
"Momentum and confidence is what drives you to keep playing well and that's what's got him right now."
On Thursday, McDowell's putt at Celtic Manor was named the European Tour Shot of the Year.
"I've been on the short list a couple times for the Shot of the Year and never actually won it, so to win one's pretty special," he said. "It was definitely one of the most exciting moments of my career so far."
His putt at the end of regulation at the Chevron came moments after what may have been Woods' best shot of the season, an 8-iron to within three feet for birdie.
"It was a phenomenal year," McDowell said. "To beat him in his own backyard I feel like, in his own event, it was pretty exciting."
* Matthew Carroll is at email@example.com.