Sport Golf

Thursday 28 August 2014

Battling Graeme McDowell recovers his focus in Paris

Superb 70 shows just why Portrush ace must feature in Ryder Cup

William S Callahan

Published 04/07/2014 | 02:30

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Graeme McDowell in action during the first round of the Open de France in Paris. Photo credit: Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell in action during the first round of the Open de France in Paris. Photo credit: Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Nobody has to take punches on Tour but if a professional golfer ever could be termed as having a granite chin, then it's Graeme McDowell.

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The Portrush scrapper shrugged off two potential knockout blows on his way to a one-under par 70 in yesterday's opening round of the Open de France, showing precisely why he's a must for Paul McGinley's European Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles.

There were several stunningly good rounds at Le France National, not least the superb 64 which propelled American Kevin Stadler, winner of February's Phoenix Open, one clear of Germany's Marcel Siem and two ahead of third placed Stephen Gallacher.

Yet a player's true colours often are best seen in adversity on the golf course and that certainly was the case at the 13th and 15th yesterday as McDowell twice sank huge putts for bogey when doubles had been on the cards.

Not in the least flattered when a birdie at 12 moved him to two-under, defending champion McDowell then landed himself in trouble in the left rough off the tee at the treacherous 427-yards 13th. The pressure on the Ulsterman to crank up his Ryder Cup challenge showed as he pounded that tee box in frustration with his club and then took on the risky approach to a green fronted by water.

Ironically, his lie wasn't forbidding enough to force the lay-up. "Instead, I'd one of those teasers," sighed McDowell, adding: "I was surprised when it didn't make it across the hazard."

After his penalty drop, McDowell hit his fourth shot more than 20-feet past the hole. Faced with a desperately difficult downhill, double-breaker, the cold-eyed finisher within the Ulsterman showed as he sent it into the cup.

This remarkable bogey was followed by another at the 605-yard 14th, where McDowell, his thoughts scrambled by a calamitous combination of wayward shots, again somehow managed to hole out from 15 feet for a morale-boosting six.

After clobbering a small boy on the head with his blocked tee shot, McDowell failed to clear the long grass with his second.

"Thankfully, the boy was okay," McDowell said afterwards. My head was spinning pretty good when I was standing over the 15-footer coming back for bogey," he explained.

"I somehow managed to summon up the focus to knock that one in and pull myself back together."

Brilliantly, McDowell hit his 8-iron to four feet at 16, inside splendid tee shots by his playing companions Martin Kaymer and Victor Dubuisson, for a sweet birdie two.

Newly-crowned US Open champion Kaymer recovered after dropping three shots on his opening two holes to post a dogged 72. Dubuisson, who opened with a triple-bogey seven settled for a 76 after a losing battle with hay fever.

Padraig Harrington played the opening 12 holes in two-under. Yet the Dubliner had to sink an eight foot putt for double-bogey at 13 after missing the fairway, laying-up and then seeing his wedge roll into the pond.

CONFIDENCE

Leaking shots and confidence down the stretch, he made another six at 15 and bogeyed 17. This left Harrington 92nd on three-over, one behind Ulster's Gareth Maybin and Michael Hoey.

Damien McGrane opened with a 71; Peter Lawrie 72, Kevin Phelan 76, Simon Thornton 77 and David Higgins 79.

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke was just inside the top-100 on one-over after his 71 at the Greenbrier Classic.

Rounds of two-under par 70 left Stephen Grant and Gareth Shaw four off the pace set by Swedes Joel Sjoholm and Bjorn Akesson in the Aegean Airlines Challenge in Bad Griesbach, Germany, where Niall Kearney shot 71 and Alan Dunbar 76.

Stephanie Meadow, a stunning third on her recent professional debut at the US Open, was six off the lead in the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters at The Buckinghamshire.

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