Thursday 22 February 2018

Late fightback has McDowell beaming

Karl MacGinty

IN keeping with the ever-contrary nature of the game, Graeme McDowell emerged happiest from the first round of the DP World Tour Championship, despite posting the poorest score of the four apostles in this year's Race to Dubai.

Henrik Stenson appeared to throw down the gauntlet to his pursuers with a four-under-par 68, which left him just two off the lead, one ahead of Ian Poulter and two clear of Justin Rose.

McDowell, third behind Stenson and Rose in the Race to Dubai standings, shot 72, yet beamed with pride and bonhomie after dragging himself away from calamity's clutches with a heroic hat-trick of birdies down the stretch.

In contrast, Stenson bristled with frustration after a three-stab bogey six from 12 feet at the last blotted an otherwise perfect card.

Poulter gritted his teeth in annoyance at the plethora of putts he missed on heavily-grained and undulating greens at the Earth Course, while Justin Rose was relieved to sink a six-footer at 18 to avoid making back-to-back three-putt bogeys on the final two holes.


McDowell has endured more than his fair share of grief on these perplexing putting surfaces and admitted he almost gave into thoughts of "here we go again a few times on the front nine," adding, "but I knew I needed to be bigger and better than that."

After playing the opening three holes in two-over and struggling to hole putts on the front nine, McDowell had any encouragement gained from sinking a long one for birdie at 12 snuffed out by a "three-whack" at 13.

Recalling the shock of that moment, as he tumbled towards oblivion on three-over, McDowell said: "that's when the alarm bells really started to ring ... I could have shot myself out of it easily, but I dug in, made three birdies in a row on 14, 15 and 16 and gave myself something to fight for.

"I've let these greens get in my head in the past, but not today. I don't really want to be spotting some of the best players in the world four, five and six shots (AlejandRo Canizares of Spain grabbed the lead with his sweet 66), but I'm pretty pleased. It would have been very disappointing if I hadn't made those three birdies coming in, but there's no panic. I'm five or six behind, but there's a long way to go and I've won many tournaments from here."

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry both shot 71, but were in markedly different humour. The Holywood native was furious with a bogey six at 18, where he blocked his tee shot into a stream bisecting the fairway.

While he threatened to turn the clock back 12 months with three birdies in four fabulous opening holes, McIlroy's short game wasn't sharp enough to save him after he missed the fairway and then failed to make the green in regulation at five and eight, leading to bogey at both.

His final birdie came at the par-five seventh and missed chances at the 14, 15 and 16 contrasted with the five-birdie finishing streak which clinched victory here last year. However, one can never write off the 24-year-old on a course perfectly suited to his power game.

Though Lowry had a couple of three-putts down the stretch, he claimed "one-under is fairly okay. I'm definitely not out of the tournament."

His buoyant mood shone through as Lowry recalled climbing on to the back of a camel during Wednesday's launch of his endorsement deal with McGettigan's Irish Pubs and The Bonnington Hotel in Dubai.

The Clara man found the experience frightening, but expressed sympathy with the overburdened beast.

"Apparently, the camel's in hospital today," quipped Lowry. "He has got bad knees ... and instead of two humps, he now only has one."

DP World Tour Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0

Irish Independent

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