Sport Golf

Wednesday 28 June 2017

McDowell revels in wintry winds

Portrush man Graeme McDowell. Photo Reuters
Portrush man Graeme McDowell. Photo Reuters

William S Callahan

A rasping breeze gusting to 25 miles per hour and a wintry nip in the air gave Portrush man Graeme McDowell a sense of home at Palm Beach Gardens yesterday as he compiled a deeply satisfying two-under-par 68 in the first round of the Honda Classic.

At the best of times, The Champion Course at PGA National is arguably one of the toughest outside of the Majors, yet in yesterday's blustery, cold conditions it played like a real tartar. No surprise, therefore, to see the stroke- average soar to 72.6 by mid-afternoon.

Which makes the bogey-free 65 shot by clubhouse leader Nathan Green look remarkably good. The 34-year-old Australian, who claimed his maiden US Tour victory at last autumn's RBS Canadian Open, could hardly have dreamed of a better start.

McDowell was pretty chuffed with his effort too, especially after he'd bogeyed his first hole, the 508-yard par-four 10th, after his tee shot sailed into a fairway bunker; he then had to scramble smartly for his par at 11.

"When we started out on the back-nine early this morning, it was dark, cold and breezy," he said. "It really felt a bit like home and 10 and 11 were particularly difficult. If you'd offered me two-under as I walked to the 12th tee, I'd have snatched your hand off.

"Though I got off to a slow start and bogeyed 10, I made some nice putts and hung in there on the back nine," added McDowell, who turned in one-over and then picked up three birdies on the way home.

"The front-nine kind of offers up a few chances but this wind was tough. It was very hard to pick (your shot) at times with a lot of them blowing across. It was a tough test.

"It was European-style stuff. The course is in great shape but the rough's not as thick as years gone by. If we had thick rough out there, it'd be an unbelievably difficult test."

Sparkling

McDowell got precious little return for some sparkling golf on the European Tour's Desert Swing and last month's Accenture Match Play but with his putter back in good form, he might be ready to do a little pot-hunting this weekend.

The Ulsterman outscored his playing companion Lee Westwood by one stroke yesterday, while Padraig Harrington could only look on as the other members of his three-ball, Green and Vijay Singh (67) created and converted a series of birdie chances.

Harrington's suggestion on Tuesday that after just six rounds and 17 holes of competitive golf since last December, he's going to need more time to regain his competitive edge was fully borne out by the first-round 71 which left the Dubliner wallowing in mid-table on one-over.

Not that he played badly. Harrington recovered nicely for a bogey five at 11 after hitting his approach into water, then needed three to get down from the fringe at 16 as he slipped to two-over through seven. He knuckled down thereafter, pulling off a series of good par-saves on five, six and seven before landing his only birdie of the day on his final hole, the 421-yard ninth.

Harrington certainly will benefit if, as one suspects, he plays all four rounds on a course which will demand his full attention.

In an interesting reversal of usual form, Holywood starlet Rory McIlroy struggled to control his tee ball but putted sublimely yesterday. After sinking par-saving putts from 30 feet and six feet respectively on the opening two holes, McIlroy made a nice chip and putt for a birdie four at three.

He dropped his first shot of the day at 14, where he drove into a fairway bunker. McIlroy stumbled to another bogey at the par-three 17th, third hole in the infamous Bear Trap, when he blocked his tee shot slightly and his ball joined 15 others in the water.

He got up and down neatly at the last to save par for a one-over 71.

US PGA champion YE Yang endured a nightmare start to his defence of his title, following up on a bogey at his opening hole, the 10th, with a disastrous quintuple-bogey nine at 11, where he hit two balls in the water and then three-putted from 38 feet.

Honda Classic,

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