Saturday 3 December 2016

G-Mac to go toe-to-toe with US Masters winner Spieth

William S Callahan

Published 18/04/2015 | 02:30

Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 10, in Augusta (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Graeme McDowell, of Northern Ireland, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 10, in Augusta (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

As Jordan Spieth performed like a true Master at Harbour Town yesterday, the European Tour's pursuit of a new chief executive concluded with the appointment of Canadian businessman Keith Pelley.

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Spieth inevitably showed signs of fatigue during Thursday's 74 at the RBC Heritage but clicked straight back into Augusta scoring mode during a fabulous second round of nine-under-par 62.

This flawless effort lifted the 21-year-old Texan to six-under and a tie for seventh at the halfway mark, one behind 2013 Heritage winner Graeme McDowell in tied fourth and two shy of second-placed duo, defending champion Matt Kuchar and John Merrick.

However, Spieth's second-round fireworks were bettered by Troy Merritt who stormed into the lead with a course-record-equalling 61 for a 12-under-par two-round total. The American finished with four straight birdies as he came home in astonishing 28 shots (seven-under).

If McDowell derided himself for driving 'like a Wally' at The Masters, the Portrush native resumed his usual tidy service off the tee and, after "blowing virtually every putt through the break" at Augusta, is more at home on this week's greens.

Sharing the lead with Matt Every after their opening 66s, G-Mac holed from 16 feet for birdie at 10, his first, yesterday but then slipped up with bogeys at 14 and 18 before finding his scoring touch.

Though a couple of sweet birdie fours at two and five were followed by a three-putt bogey from 54 feet at six, McDowell impressively picked up two more shots on eight and nine. "I struck it nicely on the way out, just couldn't seem to get the ball in the hole," said G-Mac. "But I kept it going and it was nice to be able to tuck away a few chances."

Read more: Player's silly vanity spoils Augusta tee-off

Read more: Masters champion Jordan Spieth roars back with 62 at the RBC Heritage

Spieth took a circuitous route from Augusta to Hilton Head in neighbouring South Carolina, an appearance on the 'David Letterman Show' in New York featuring high on a head-spinning list of celebrity engagements for the world No 2 and his new Green Jacket.

So it wasn't surprising when he admitted feeling a little out of sorts on Thursday. "Yesterday was just a weird round in my head and didn't feel normal," he said. "But I found something in my ball position on the range this morning."

Once Spieth got back into his routine, he landed birdies almost at will as he got within one of the course record on Pete Dye's short but strategic gem.

Should he rack up his third victory in five events tomorrow, Spieth will close to within two points of Rory McIlroy at the top of the world, setting up a fantastic series of showdowns between these two, particularly at the World Match Play, The Players at Sawgrass and June's US Open.

Off-course news dominates the European stage as Pelley, 51, president of vast Canadian conglomerate Rogers Media, is named as successor to George O'Grady, who'll continue his 40-year association with the Tour as 'President of International Relations'.

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Pelley has 30 years' experience working with or for professional sports bodies, including America's National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the Canadian Football League, while he negotiated the broadcast rights for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

At Rogers Media, Pelley controlled 51 radio stations, 56 publications, 12 national TV networks, 42 local stations and 300 digital outlets, plus baseball's Toronto Blue Jays.

Michael Hoey alone of five Irish made the cut in the Shenzen International in China. A second-round 71 left the Ulsterman tied 49th on one-over, 10 behind leader Peter Uihlein (68).

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