Graeme McDowell 'excited' to be in the mix at Irish Open
Graeme McDowell admitted it was a pleasant surprise to be in contention for the Irish Open after moving into a share of the lead on Friday.
McDowell made his tournament debut when Fota Island last hosted the event in 2002 and finished 27th, but that was one of just six halfway cuts the former US Open champion has made in 12 appearances.
The 34-year-old has never recorded a top-10 finish, but added a 66 to his opening 68 to join England's Robert Rock in the clubhouse lead on eight under par.
"There's always a first time for everything," joked McDowell, who carded six birdies and one bogey. "Eight under is a nice total and although I don't expect it to be leading at the end of the day it doesn't have to. I am just excited to be in contention."
McDowell admitted he was feeling the effects of last week's exertions in the US Open in the first round, hitting his tee shot on the par-three 17th so poorly that it came up more than 50 yards short of the green.
"I was a little sharper this morning, legs felt fresher," he added. "I missed two fairways, my iron play was better and I putted well. The Irish Open brings its own pressure, but it's the proverbial walk in the park compared to last week, which bordered on the unenjoyable. I'm more relaxed, trying to free myself up and enjoy my golf."
Starting from the 10th, McDowell began with three pars before holing from 20 feet for birdie on the par-three 11th, only to promptly give the shot back on the next after failing to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
Joint second after the opening round at Pinehurst before finishing 28th, McDowell bounced back straight away with a birdie on the 15th and then made three in succession from the second.
And, after surprisingly missing from six feet on the fifth, he holed from a similar distance on the seventh to match the 66 of tournament specialist Rock, who had carded seven birdies and two bogeys.
Rock lost a play-off to Shane Lowry at County Louth in 2009, but claimed the first prize of €500,000 as Lowry was still an amateur, while he also finished fifth in 2006 and second to Paul Casey last year.
"It's a tournament I like playing, but I think it's more the time of year," Rock said. "I enjoy the tournaments at the start of the year (he held off Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to win in Abu Dhabi in 2012) but when we travel further afield I don't play well and it batters your confidence.
"It takes time to rebuild that and it seems to be this time of year it comes back."
Defending champion Casey had been trading birdies with playing partner McDowell until bogeys on his last three holes meant he had to settle for a second consecutive 69.