Champagne flows in McDowell's local club

Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell was elevated to legendary status at his hometown golf club today as fans and friends celebrated his dramatic match-winning performance.

Only months after Rathmore Golf Club in Portrush held the biggest party in its history when the Irish golfer won the US Open championship, members were gearing up for another epic bash after their favourite son clinched the sport's most coveted trophy for Europe in heart-stopping fashion.

It was a very different scene inside the packed clubhouse in the closing stages of the nerve-shredding encounter as McDowell played the last few holes at Celtic Manor in Wales, knowing he had to win to deliver victory for the Europeans against the USA.

"It was just electric, I've never seen an atmosphere like it," said bar manager Jim Blee.

"I didn't want it to come down to the last match but I knew if it did Graeme would have the guts to do it. And boy did he do it."

The club erupted when McDowell holed a crucial 12ft birdie putt at the 16th against American Hunter Mahan and the champagne corks popped minutes later as the US star conceded the match on the next hole.

"The US Open was massive but I think today has put Graeme into another stratosphere," said Mr Blee.

The 31-year-old may be born and bred in Portrush but he is not the only Ryder Cup star with links to the famous golfing seaside town.

Young Co Down tyro Rory McIlroy, who won a point and a half as McDowell's partner earlier in the contest and secured a vital half against Stewart Cink in today's singles, holds the course record 61 at Royal Portrush.

Co Tyrone-born European vice captain and former team stalwart Darren Clarke is an honorary member at the same famous links course.

But today it was McDowell and Rathmore Golf Club's day.

"The champagne has been flowing and it's going to be some night," promised Mr Blee.

In the more sober surrounds of the Northern Ireland Assembly, McDowell's exploits were also acknowledged when deputy speaker John Dallat informed members what had just happened outside the chamber.

"Perhaps, before we finish, I'm sure this assembly would want to congratulate Europe on winning the Ryder Cup and, wait for it, Graeme McDowell for his winning putt," he said.

East Derry MP Gregory Campbell said the Portrush man's exploits topped off an outstanding year.

"Thanks to Graeme's play today in his match against Hunter Mahan he has helped secure 'Victory for Europe' day in the Ryder Cup," he said.

"Graeme, along with Rory McIlroy, have been fantastic ambassadors for Northern Ireland at the Ryder Cup, but Portrush and Northern Ireland as a whole are particularly proud of Graeme and everything he has achieved.

"Northern Ireland has a proud history of producing outstanding sports personalities and there is no doubt that Graeme's name is firmly settled amongst many of those great names."

It may not be the last of the laurels for McDowell as tonight he was installed as 15/8 to win both the RTÉ and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

Hayley O’Connor, of Ladbrokes, said: “McDowell gave punters the fairytale ending to the Ryder Cup. Coupled with his US Open win he’s now got a huge chance of scooping two of the most coveted off the field sports awards going.”

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