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McDowell determined to battle to Ryder spot

GOLF: Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell believes he faces a tough task to book his place on Europe's team to defend the trophy in Chicago next year.

McDowell secured the winning point at Celtic Manor 12 months ago, capping a brilliant season which also saw him win his first major title in the US Open at Pebble Beach.

He has struggled to reproduce that form since, but after recently turning to former coach Clive Tucker to revitalise his game, the 32-year-old Ulsterman carded an opening 67 at Kingsbarns to lie just one shot off the lead in the Dunhill Links Championship.

And he admitted the start of the qualifying race for next year's Ryder Cup at Medinah had also given him the extra motivation he had been looking for.

"For a guy who has been struggling for a little bit of motivation, somehow when the Ryder Cup qualifying went off a few weeks back it gets your attention, starts you focusing and helps you build toward something," McDowell said.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Ollie (Europe team captain Jose Maria Olazabal) and I want to be part of that Ryder Cup team very badly because I think he's going to be an unbelievable captain and it's going to be a great experience that week."

McDowell was one of six players to finish the opening day of the pro-am event one shot off the lead, with former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen sharing top spot at six under alongside Austria's Markus Brier, Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey.

On a crowded leaderboard, Dubliner Pádraig Harrington, defending champion Martin Kaymer, world number two Lee Westwood and former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie were all just two off the lead after rounds of 68.

England's Tom Lewis also returned the same score, but was left to rue a double-bogey seven on the ninth at Kingsbarns, his closing hole, which cost him a share of the lead. World number one Luke Donald, aiming to become the first player to finish top of the money list on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season, was satisfied with a round of 69, while Rory McIlroy - who is £1.4million behind his Ryder Cup team-mate at the top of the Race to Dubai - came home in 31 for a 70.

TENNIS: World number one Novak Djokovic will miss next week's China Open in Beijing with a back injury, the 24-year-old Serb said on Thursday.

Djokovic, who won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open this season as he dislodged Rafa Nadal from the top of the world rankings, aggravated a niggling injury in Serbia's Davis Cup tie with Argentina earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova has pulled out of the China Open after injuring her left ankle at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

Sharapova said: "the good news is that the MRI showed no big damage in the ankle."