Friday 24 November 2017

Horror 80 makes for McDowell nightmare

Graeme McDowell plays his third shot at the 15th hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Graeme McDowell plays his third shot at the 15th hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

William S Callahan IN orlando

Irish high flyer Graeme McDowell came back down to earth with a considerable thud during yesterday's first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Europe's Ryder Cup match-clincher McDowell posted a shocking 80 to equal his worst round score in 10 years as a professional.

Only on three other occasions has McDowell failed to break 80 on Tour, most recently on the Saturday at the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, which was won, of course, by Padraig Harrington.

However, yesterday's effort was quite stunning from a player who has soared to No 4 in the world rankings on the back of four phenomenal victories in Europe and the United States last year, most notably in June's US Open at Pebble Beach.

McDowell missed the cut at last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational after playing the final 11 holes of his second round in seven-over par, including a quadruple-bogey eight on 18.

The Ulsterman had another eight on his card yesterday, only this time he slipped-up on Bay Hill's banana-shaped, par-five sixth hole. After hitting his second shot into the water, McDowell missed the green with his fourth and, after chipping to 35 feet, three-putted.

Typically, he still managed to raise a smile at the finish. "After I made triple on No 6, I was well aware that I had to finish with a few pars to break the old 80 barrier, but managed to three-whack eight just to compound the error," McDowell chuckled.

"It was one of those things. It was a battle out there and I tried to hang tough, but that triple bogey just kind of ended my week, probably," added the Irishman, who hasn't been happy with his long game since returning from a much-needed four-week break late last month.

Yet every club in his bag seemed to let him down yesterday, including his usually ultra-reliable putter, which McDowell had to use 35 times, including three three-putts.

"It's disappointing, really," he went on. "Not exactly what I had in mind and 80 is pretty aweful stuff.

Tough

"You know, this is a tough golf course and you really wanna be on top of your game out there and I was on top of nothing today. I didn't drive it particularly well, my iron play was pretty weak and I putted awful.

"My long game has kind of been a little off lately, but I got it all out of my system today. There's not really an explanation."

Last year, he followed-up on his missed cut at Bay Hill by failing to make the weekend at the US Masters ... yet with the first Major of the season looming at Augusta in a fortnight's time, he believes yesterday's round "may be the wake-up call I need".

"It's a good thing really, a reality check for me. I've got to get my ass in gear and start working hard. Not that I haven't been working hard, but I really have to get my focus back a little bit -- focus on what I'm doing as opposed to all the other crap going on around me right now."

"I'm not very happy with the way I am swinging the club and my iron game is very out of control. It's not like me. Six weeks ago, I had it on a string.

"It's definitely technique issues that I've got to get my head around," explained McDowell, whose swing coach, Pete Cowen, flies into Orlando next Thursday, shortly after McDowell returns from a quick scouting trip to Augusta National.

After three bogeys on his outward half, McDowell played Bay Hill's front nine in five-over 41. His solitary birdie came at the par-four third, where he holed out from 24 feet.

The Irishman was 14 behind Californian Spencer Levin (26), who shot a superb bogey-free 66 in blustery conditions to lie three ahead of Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan.

Phil Mickelson figured in a large group on two-under after a 70. Tiger Woods struggled to find a fairway and was hit-and-miss with his putter during a one-over 73, which included three birdies and four bogeys.

Arnold Palmer Invitational,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 7.0

Irish Independent

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