Kavarna, Bulgaria – Graeme McDowell battled back from an early deficit and claimed the World Match Play Championship title on Sunday with a 2 & 1 victory over Thongchai Jaidee.
McDowell, last year's runner up, was 2-down through four holes at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort before eventually squaring the match at the 12th. The world No. 8 took his first lead with a par on the 14th and then went 2-up on the 15th courtesy of a deft approach to five feet.
The advantage held after both players parred the 16th, and when Thailand's Jaidee missed a long and challenging birdie putt on 17, McDowell was able to lock up his eighth European Tour victory with a tap-in par.
"Obviously a nice day and a great trophy," said McDowell. "I talked about it all week about the prestige of this event and how many great champions, and nice to add my name to that list of legends."
McDowell became the first Irishman to win this event, and he exacted some revenge along the way.
Beaten by Nicolas Colsaerts in last year's title match and the 2011 quarterfinals, McDowell atoned for that on Saturday with a 2 & 1 victory over the Belgian, then rolled to his second straight final appearance with a 3 & 2 triumph over South African Branden Grace in Sunday's semis.
Jaidee, who was seeking his sixth European Tour title, clinched a finals berth by taking down Thomas Aiken for the second time in the week. Having already defeated Aiken in Friday's second round, the Thai golfer once again made a victim of the South African with a 3 & 2 semifinal triumph.
Neither player had dropped a match entering the championship round, and Jaidee was in fine form early, grabbing control with a winning birdie putt from 25 feet on the second hole and a 5-foot birdie make on the fourth after McDowell's miss from double that distance.
Jaidee nearly went 3-up when at the par-5 fifth when McDowell's approach found an unplayable patch of rough. The 2010 U.S. Open champion salvaged par with a 12-foot putt and avoided falling further behind when Jaidee's birdie roll from six feet went awry.
McDowell finally got on the board with a short birdie putt on the seventh, and the next four holes were halved, with McDowell draining lengthy par putts on Nos. 9 and 10 before squaring the match with a birdie on the 12th.
"It was tough to keep that level of golf up all weekend, and the key putts really this afternoon were with the par saves on nine and 10 -- they were massive," said McDowell. "I sensed from Thongchai after that that he was starting to fatigue a little bit. I really sensed a bit of an opening."
McDowell grabbed his first lead with a par on the 14th, where Jaidee drove into a bush, played out sideways and eventually settled for a bogey.
On the next hole, McDowell dropped a deft approach within seven feet and drained the downhill birdie putt to go 2-up. The Irishman closed out the victory with back-to-back pars.
"This feels really, really like a special win," said McDowell, who was playing his first European Tour event of the year after posting four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, including a victory at the RBC Heritage.
"This is a special moment in my career, no doubt about it," he continued. "Wins are super special -- two in five weeks, that's great. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
NOTES: Jaidee entered the event having recorded top-10 finishes in four of his eight European Tour starts this season ... Brett Rumford was eliminated in the third round. Coming off back-to-back victories at the Ballantine's Championship and China Open, he was looking to join Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros as the only players in European Tour history to win three consecutive events ... Ian Poulter, the 2011 champion and European Ryder cup hero, was eliminated on Friday. He won the WGC-Accenture Match Play title in 2010 ... The 24-man field was divided into eight groups of three players, with everyone playing two matches and the top two players from each group advancing to the single elimination matches on Saturday and Sunday.