Sport Golf

Friday 24 February 2017

Battling McIlroy recovers in style

Bernie McGuire in Akron, Ohio

Graeme McDowell finally shrugged any lingering US Open victory hangover to finish in a share of second place after the opening round of the WGC -- Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio yesterday.

McDowell delighted his new-found American fans when he birdied his closing four holes in steamy, humid conditions on the Firestone Country Club course.

American Bubba Watson, who broke through for a first US Tour success a week after McDowell won at Pebble Beach, leads the $8.5m event by two strokes after carding an eight-under- par 64.

McDowell is tied with Australia's Adam Scott and Americans Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry on 66.

McDowell is also the leading Irishman with Rory McIlroy carding a 68 and Padraig Harrington, who accompanied McDowell for a second week running, complaining of dehydration after signing for a one-under 69.

McDowell's effort was only the second time he's broken par in 13 rounds on the tight tree-lined Ohio course.

"It was a nice finish and I actually played good today. I hit a lot of fairways and the only one I missed was the 10th where I had my only bogey of the day. It's probably the best golf I've played since Pebble Beach," he said.

"It's funny this week because I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders as I have not really been in the limelight. I have been a bit under the radar which has been nice."

Since capturing the US Open McDowell has made no secret that he's struggled to reproduce his Pebble Beach winning form, but he could not have been happier in reminding, particularly the American public, of the enormity of his golfing talent.

"The three events I've played since Pebble, the Scottish Open, British Open, and Irish Open, they're three difficult events," he said.

"They're normally tough weeks for me and then you add in all the US Open winning stuff and it becomes extremely difficult weeks.

"So, it's been tough to deal with, but somehow coming out here, I felt a lot fresher and just a lot better about myself really and have just been able to do my thing.

"The Tiger Woods' show is in town, so we'll have him in the limelight."

McDowell revealed that he had his club supplier Callaway replace the shaft in his FT-9 driver with an inch longer

"It's been a golf course that has not been kind to me in the past and I had Callaway put a 46--inch shaft in my driver and I've actually driven the ball great since Tuesday when the new shaft went in," he said.

"Having that new shaft in my driver has just added to how happy I feel at the moment because I just feel I am dealing so much better with being the US Open champion.

"Maybe everything is now behind me a little bit more and I am ready to play golf again."

Harrington recorded two birdies, but also three bogeys in his score of 69 that handed him a share of 18th place in the 81-player field.

However, not for a first occasion when competing in hot and humid conditions, the triple Major winner battled with staying hydrated.

"I am pleased with one-under considering I got dehydrated early. I had the symptoms of dehydration as my mind was racing and the body wasn't very co-ordinated," he said.

"I kind of knew that this morning when I was practicing on the range, but I never got on top of it even though I was drinking plenty on the golf course.

"But I was pleased to see Graeme play well and we had a nice day out there."

McIlroy had earlier birdied three holes in succession from his 10th hole to end with a 68.

The current World No 8 had birdied his first hole, but then dropped two shots over the next three holes.

In contrast, Tiger Woods produced his worst Firestone scoring display in 45 rounds of the Ohio course in carding a four-over par 74.

Woods bogeyed three of his opening four holes with an uncharacteristic two birdies appearing also on his score card.

The seven-time former Bridgestone winner previous poorest round Firestone round was a two-over par 72 on day two of the 2003 event.

Irish Independent

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