sport

McDowell wins as Stadler flops

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell won the Alstom Open de France by a shot after a dramatic collapse from American Kevin Stadler on the final day at Le Golf National.

McDowell produced a brilliant final round of 67 to overturn an eight-shot deficit and successfully defend a tournament for the first time in his career.

McDowell shrugged off the miserable conditions to card the joint-lowest round on a wet and windy day.

But the former US Open champion also had plenty of help from Stadler, who missed from two feet for par on the 18th to force a sudden death play-off.

Stadler had seen his four-shot overnight lead disappear with a front nine of 41, but had battled back well with birdies on the 14th and 16th to pull within one of McDowell, who then carded his only bogey of the day on the 18th after finding heavy rough off the tee.

That left Stadler needing two pars to force extra holes but after holding his nerve on the 17th, the world number 62 missed his second tap-in of the day to gift McDowell a 10th European Tour title.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee finished tied with Stadler for second place and Sweden's Robert Karlsson was a shot further back in fourth.

"I'm very surprised," McDowell said. "Midway through my second glass of red wine last night, when I was very disappointed with my back-nine performance on Saturday, I really didn't think I'd be a) standing here with an opportunity to be in a play-off and b) with a trophy in my hands.

"I feel very fortunate. Kevin Stadler is a great, great player. I literally gave him that putt on the last green. I didn't expect him to miss that.

"It's not really the way you like to win. I was ready to go for the play-off, but I'll take it and run. I really needed this victory. It's a special one for me. It's pretty timely. There's a busy summer ahead and this a really good kick-start to the summer."

McDowell has deliberately played a lighter schedule this year - even missing the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth - to leave himself fresher for the second half of the season.

"It's a good decision now, but I have to say myself and my team were starting to question it," the former US Open champion added on Sky Sports 4.

"But my body has probably never been in as good a shape at this point in the season coming into two major championships, the FedEx Cup play-offs and hopefully the Ryder Cup.

"I'm very proud to defend my first title ever and this is the boost I needed on many fronts, especially the Ryder Cup (the win takes him 10th on the European points list)."

McDowell, who held the outright lead after the first round of the Open the last time it was held at Hoylake in 2006, added: "I was at Hoylake a couple of weeks ago.

"I think it's my type of set-up. You really have to find fairways off the tee and there are big flat greens where you can hole some putts. This is a nice confidence booster and I will be back at Hoylake next Sunday ready to go."

Stadler found himself five clear of the field when playing partner Jaidee got off to a terrible start and local favourite Victor Riu followed a birdie on the first with a double bogey on the second.

But the 34-year-old then missed from 18 inches for par on the fourth and four feet on the sixth, before running up a double-bogey six on the next where his ball was only found in the deep rough because an on-course television commentator stood on it.

Stadler was allowed a free drop but could only hack the ball a few yards sideways and eventually did well to get up and down from short of the green for a six.

A poor chip from left of the eighth green led to another bogey and two more early in the back nine looked to have ended his chances as McDowell picked up shots on the 13th, 14th and 16th.

Sweden's Robert Karlsson, Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey and France's Victor Riu secured their places in the Open Championship on Sunday.

Three spots at Hoylake were up for grabs for players, not already exempt, who finished in the top 10 of the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National.

Karlsson and Hoey finished fourth and seventh respectively, while Riu claimed the final berth and Open debut by a single shot despite a double bogey on the 18th in a round of 76.