Friday 24 November 2017

Graeme McDowell digs deep to sew up fightback

Graeme McDowell in action on the opening day of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Caseres, Spain
Graeme McDowell in action on the opening day of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Caseres, Spain

William S Callahan

GRAEME McDOWELL yesterday gave Ryder Cup comrade Robert Karlsson a taste of the pit bull tenacity which turned this usually affable Portrush man into Europe's match-winner two years ago at Celtic Manor.

McDowell came from behind to beat the towering Swede with a birdie on the final hole of their rip-roaring match in yesterday's opening session of the Volvo World Match Play on the Costa del Sol.

He made a dreadful start, going two down to Karlsson through three holes, and struggled to find the pace of the greens at Finca Cortesin, but McDowell pointedly refused to wave the white flag.

Though McDowell took the lead for the first time with a superb hat-trick of birdies at nine, 10 and 11, Karlsson then fought back gamely to lead him by one with three to play.

It looked grim for the Ulsterman, but few rise to the gladiatorial challenge of match play better than McDowell. Effectively, Karlsson had roused the Celtic (Manor) tiger.

"We don't get the chance to play it very often, but it's a lot of fun when the other guy plays solid and you have to play better to beat him," McDowell explained.

"It really gets your attention."

He drew level with a swashbuckling birdie three at 16 and then made a gutsy up-and-down out of a plugged lie in a greenside bunker for par and a fighting half at 17.

McDowell then set up the match-winning birdie four at 18 with two glorious shots into the green at the demanding par-five.

"I'm very happy with that," said McDowell, hotly fancied to make it through to the 16-man knockout stages at the weekend when he plays South Africa's Jbe Kruger in his second round-robin match today.

In its 38 years, this championship has never seen anything quite like Brandt Snedeker's victory over Thomas Bjorn. The American began his opening group game with just 10 clubs, yet won the first three holes before more arrived.

Snedeker (31) was forced to seek replacements when his usual set went missing en route from Florida on Monday. They eventually showed up at Malaga Airport yesterday morning, were driven to Finca Cortesin and brought to him on the fourth tee.

Under the rules he was allowed only to add four to those he'd started with. Yet Snedeker was so happy with the driver he'd borrowed from Australian John Senden and the putter he had chosen in the pro shop that he continued with them.

"The driver worked really well, so I think it's mine now and no longer his," said the three-time PGA Tour winner, who hopes to use this week to impress American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love.

Bjorn plainly is still suffering from the virus which forced him to pull out of the last two events in America. He could never recover from bogeying the opening three holes, falling five down after six and losing 5&4.

Robert Rock crashed to the biggest defeat of the opening day, losing 7&6 to fellow Englishman Justin Rose, who birdied the first five holes, winning four of them, and later added two more.

HALF

To guarantee himself a place in the knockout stages Rose now needs only a half against British Open champion Darren Clarke, the lowest-ranked player in the three-man group after his slide to 70th in the world.

Elsewhere, Padraig Harrington took a white knuckle ride to within four strokes of Ryan Palmer's clubhouse lead as he marked his debut at the Byron Nelson Championship with a two-under-par 68.

After making bogey out of a greenside bunker on the opening hole, Harrington birdied four and five, landed a chip-in eagle three at seven and picked up another couple of shots at nine and 10.

The Dubliner then stumbled to an ugly double-bogey six at 12; missed a five- foot putt for par at 14; drained a 14-footer for birdie at 16 and dropped another shot out of sand at the last.

Harrington, who has missed the cut in two PGA Tour outings since shining at last month's Masters, has fared particularly well on Thursday's this year.

Just 10 of the 36 rounds he's played in 2012 have been in the 60s and six of those were posted on the opening day at tournaments, including a 61 at the Transitions in March.

Palmer's 64 was bogey-free, while Matt Kuchar, crowned Players Champion at Sawgrass last Sunday, shot a 66. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were frustrated with their even-par rounds of 70.

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