Monday 19 March 2018

Champion McDowell left behind in early rush

Graeme McDowell follows the flight of his ball off the 13th tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage at Habour Town Golf Links
Graeme McDowell follows the flight of his ball off the 13th tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage at Habour Town Golf Links

William S Callahan

Graeme McDowell was accorded the respect and deference due his status as defending champion at the RBC Heritage Classic all week, and then was almost trampled in the rush up the leaderboard when play began yesterday.

The former US Open champion wanted a good start to begin the process of flushing the missed cut at the Masters out of his system and posted a level-par 71.

Not bad for the doughty battler from Portrush, but almost as soon as he had finished McDowell was left to ponder a five-shot deficit as Matt Kuchar set the early pace with a 66.

There was more to come as well, with over half the field left to finish after he had completed his round.


Hilton Head's notoriously small greens – on average half the size of the greens normally experienced on the PGA Tour – and precision golf requirement are enough to test any player, but a stiff, swirling breeze toughened up the challenge considerably.

McDowell started on the 10th hole, and reeled off steady pars for the first six before dropping a shot when he three-putted the 16th, his seventh hole.

A par on the next was followed by a bogey five on the 18th, on which he had to take a penalty drop after hitting his second shot into a hazard.

Out in 37, and with another bogey five on the third hole, his 12th, McDowell refused to get down on himself, and produced a strong finish featuring three birdies on his last six holes.

Meanwhile, in the Maybank Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, European Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts defied jet lag and the physical and emotional hangover from last week's Masters in fine style. Westwood shot a seven-under par 65 for the clubhouse lead, and Colsaerts returned a 66.

The tournament was affected by a 75-minute delay caused by a threat of lightning, which meant that some players had to return today to finish their first rounds.

Ulsterman Michael Hoey was one of the lucky ones who completed 18 holes, and his five-under par 67 left him feeling quite satisfied, if a little bemused at the fickle nature of golf.

Hoey said: "A lot of putts went in, that was the highlight. I holed a 50-footer on the 13th up the hill, which is a tough hole. A birdie there is nearly like getting two shots on the field.

"It was good chipping and putting all the way, so I'm really happy. It's weird because my grips hadn't set properly and I didn't have a lot of confidence before I went out.

"I didn't expect to do much because of that, so it just shows you, in golf if you have low expectations, sometimes you can play well.

"I've never done well here but I'm handling the heat well and I read the grain on the greens really well. It is a big advantage finishing the round, so you can rest, so that's a good break."

Simon Thornton's 74 for two-over left him next best of the Irish.

The hot and humid conditions took their toll on Shane Lowry, who was on eight-over par 80 and requiring a big improvement in the second round to have any chance of making the cut.

Damien McGrane completed only 15 holes before play was halted, and was six-over par at that stage.

McGrane needed to come back and finish his last three holes before embarking on the second round.

Meanwhile, Irish international Paul Dunne has been selected on the European Palmer Cup team after blazing a glory trail on the US collegiate circuit with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

After winning two tournaments for the UAB 'Blazers' this season and notching his third top-five finish in four events last week in Ohio, Greystones native Dunne (21) and Scotland's Grant Forrest of San Diego were the two 'Committee Picks' for the Walton Heath battle with the US Universities from June 26-28.

RBC Heritage

Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Malaysian Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

Irish Independent

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