Graeme McDowell can't wait to get his teeth into the "meat and bones" of the season after a stunning seven-under-par 65 left him just four shots adrift of winner Luke Donald in the Madrid Masters yesterday.
Victory was going to be unlikely for the Ulsterman (30), who went into the final round six shots adrift of joint leaders Donald and Welshman Rhys Davies, the eventual runner-up.
However, he put in a full-blooded final-round charge, getting to within two of the lead with four to play before settling for solo fourth on 17-under after an eight-birdie effort that he hopes will lead to greater things.
"I've no complaints -- the damage was done yesterday," said McDowell, who earned €75,000 to move up two places to 22nd in the Ryder Cup race. "It was a great day's work. I haven't been in a winning position on the back nine on Sunday for a while so it's good to get those feelings and put your game under pressure.
"There is never a bad time to play well but this is the meat and bones of the season coming up. I have been saying for a few months now that my game is in good shape. I have just got to start proving it."
Donald (32) ended four years of winless frustration when he eagled the par-five 16th to break out of a three-way tie with Davies and Italy's Francesco Molinari, closing with a 67 to the young Welshman's immaculate 68 to win by a stroke on 21-under par.
It was an important victory for Donald, whose status as the ultimate money-making underachiever led an American writer to coin the phrase "Luke Donald Disease" to describe Britain's 10-year drought in the Majors.
Just a week after blowing the BMW PGA at Wentworth with a 71st-hole double-bogey, Donald's 252-yard hybrid to 12 feet at the Real Sociedad Hipica Espanola Club de Campo's 16th was worth much more than the €250,000 top prize.
"It's been a while since I won and to put last week behind me makes me very proud," said Donald, who earned enough world ranking points to push Padraig Harrington out of an automatic Ryder Cup spot.
McDowell knew that he would need a round in the low 60s to contend for the title and he got off to a fast start when he holed a 10-footer at the first and a seven-footer at the next to get to 12-under. But despite a bogey at the par-five third he didn't stop trying.
He birdied the fifth, sixth and seventh and while he missed chances at the eighth and ninth to turn for home four adrift, he continued to chase.
After a two-putt birdie at the par-five 10th, he tapped in from less than a foot at the 13th and then drained a 40-footer at the 14th to get within two of the lead, before a bad drive on the par-five 16th all but ended his slim hopes of victory.
Peter Lawrie claimed his fourth top-10 finish of the season, thanks to a closing 67. He shared sixth place on 13-under and Lawrie said: "That is the best I've played for a while, especially on the greens."
Damien McGrane closed with a disappointing 72 to finish tied 36th on seven-under, with Shane Lowry a shot further back alongside Paul McGinley in tied 41st after a 69.
Lowry said: "Five-under for the weekend wasn't a bad return so if this is a bad week, it augurs well."
McGinley, who was tied third after an opening 66, was in no mood for chat after finishing double-bogey, bogey for a closing 72.