McDowell walks the walk with 67
After two days of talking the talk, Graeme McDowell walked the walk with a four-under 67 in the first round of his Wales Open defence yesterday.
As he started his bid to retain this title and his US Open crown in two weeks' time, McDowell battled greens that were slower than last year, when he also tasted victory in the last match of Europe's one-point Ryder Cup triumph over the Americans here.
"I feel like I've become a good fast-green putter and a really bad slow-green putter," he said after a round matched by fellow Irishman Damien McGrane, adding that it used to be the other way around. "The greens are not as good as I've seen at Celtic Manor. It's amazing how firm the rest of the course is, but the greens are soft with quite a lot of growth on them so they are tough to putt."
South African Keith Horne, after a 64, and Peter Hanson, one of McDowell's playing partners and Ryder Cup team-mates, on 65, were the only players ahead of McDowell and McGrane.
Their 67s were matched by Frenchmen Gregory Bourdy and Victor Dubuisson, Stuart Manley of England and Alexander Noren of Sweden. Darren Clarke birdied the last two holes for a 68, while Michael Hoey shot 71, and Shane Lowry and Colm Moriarty one-over 72s.
After all his reminiscing of previous days, McDowell produced a round that was five shots better than his opening 72 last year, when he scorched to the title with weekend returns of 64 and 63 as he won by three strokes.
"I didn't know that. Maybe this year I'll win by seven," he said.
McDowell started his round at the 10th, birdied the 12th and bogeyed the tough 14th, considered the hardest hole on the 7,378-yard 'Twenty Ten' course. He eagled the dogleg 15th, listed at 377 but just 292 yards when you cut off the dogleg, as he did.
"The ball hung on to the back left edge of the green and I made about a 30-footer for a two. That really got me going," he said.
However, he could only par the 499-yard 16th, which he birdied during his final-round 63 last year and again as he won the decisive Ryder Cup singles against Hunter Mahan. When he played the front nine, he birdied the sixth and seventh holes.
"The 16th let me down badly today. I hit it to 20 feet and thought I'd made it, but I guess I've used up all my magic on that green. It's a tough second shot past my statue there," he quipped, adding that he plans to relax at home in Portrush next week before flying to his Florida residence next Thursday ahead of the US Open defence at Congressional.
His house in Florida, in an enclave populated by European golfers, is just across a driving range from Hanson's.
"I can get to his place with a seven-iron," Hanson said. "We enjoy each other's company and we had a lot of fun out there today. From the Ryder Cup, I've learned a lot about myself, how to handle the pressure and the nerves."
The Swede was one-over after three holes, but then birdied four in a row and then four more against one bogey on the front nine.
McGrane's season has been slow to kick off so he was delighted with his 67.
"Absolutely, I've made a quiet start. I'm just waiting to get it together, but there is a lot of golf to go yet," the 40-year-old from Meath said.
His best results have come in the past six weeks, topped by a tie for ninth in the Iberdrola Open in Majorca.
"Today I hit a lot of good shots. I hit fairways and holed a few putts, including some for par, which kept my round together. So that was pleasing. I'd take the same tomorrow, absolutely."
He also drove the 15th, but missed a 12-foot attempt for eagle.
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