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McDowell, Havret stories are great for golf

Graeme McDowell’s unlikely U.S. Open victory is great for the game of golf.

It’s great for Northern Ireland — a country ravaged by sectarian violence in the past decades.

It’s great for Europe — no player from the continent has won the “toughest test in golf” since 1970.

Now, Bradenton resident Tony Jacklin has company in the exclusive club for European winners of the U.S. Open.

Yet, why did it seem like it would be better if McDowell’s nearest competitor, Gregory Havret, ended up walking off the Pebble Beach Golf Links with the trophy in tow?

Maybe it was Havret’s status as the quintessential journeyman.

The Frenchman entered the Open ranked 391st in the world.

Maybe it was the way Havret qualified for the tournament.

He had to go through the rigorous U.S. Open qualifying, where he dropped about a 40-foot bomb just to earn a place in a 6-for-5 playoff.

Then he canned another lengthy putt that earned him a trip to California.

Maybe it was the stat about it being his first Open.

Not since Francois Ouimet, in his famous 1913 victory over British golfers Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, has someone won in their first Open.

But even though Havret couldn’t become as unlikely a winner as McDowell in the same fashion as Tom Watson would have been if he had claimed the Claret jug in last year’s British Open, the tournament still produced something great for golf.

And that’s a European besting the strong international and American flavor etched on the Sunday leaderboards.

For awhile, it seemed like this year’s tournament was destined for an 18-hole playoff.

The back-and-forth struggle, beamed across national television in primetime on the East Coast, ended up being a case of who could make the least amount of mistakes.

That turned out to be McDowell, who carded a final-round, 3-over 74 to nip Havret by one shot.

It helped that third-round leader Dustin Johnson faltered, carding a final round 82 that started going wrong after a triple bogey at the second.

It helped when Phil Mickelson couldn’t stop himself from pulling putts. Lefty’s fatal error came early, when he three-putted from 15 feet after driving the short par-4 fourth hole.

Ernie Els had a disastrous stretch, and Tiger Woods said he made three mental mistakes that cost him another major win.

So while it looked like the USGA won and McDowell backed his way into the championship, the Northern Irishman did what major champions do — make fewer errors than the competition, especially when it’s on a course playing super-hard and with bumpy greens.

Let’s just hope there’s a ripple effect and people put down their animosity and head to the links instead.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017.