Friday 23 March 2018

McDowell buoyant despite penalty

William S Callahan

GRAEME McDOWELL can reach out for his first victory in the US this weekend after a splendid three-under par 67 put him in a tie for fifth, three strokes behind leaders Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim after yesterday's second round of The Honda Classic.

Even a cruel double-bogey at 18, where McDowell honourably called a two-stroke penalty on himself for clipping the water on his backswing as he crashed a brilliant recovery shot out of the hazard, could not overshadow a masterful performance by the Ryder Cup star from Portrush.

"It is what it is," shrugged McDowell, 30, and a four-times winner on the European Tour. "It could have been Sunday. I've got all weekend to repair the damage and three off the lead on Friday evening is never bad. You know, I played pretty good today."

Indeed, he did, taking on the challenging Champion Course at Palm Beach Gardens like a chess master, playing cannily when required, but firing at pins where possible.

McDowell revelled in relatively benign conditions yesterday and wasn't the least bit flattered by his 67. After landing three birdies in his first four holes, he let a couple of chances go abegging before sinking putts of 15 and 12 feet respectively for further birdies at 12 and 14.

Yet heartbreak came at the last. After hitting the only poor shot of his day into the hazard, McDowell found his ball half-submerged, but, undeterred, he waded in, blasting it 72 yards up the fairway before hitting a phenomenal fairway metal just short of the green to set up the bravest of par saves ... or so we thought.

TV replays confirmed McDowell's suspicion that he'd brushed the water with his backswing. Including the mandatory two-stroke penalty, he scored a double-bogey seven at the hole.

Villegas stormed into the clubhouse lead with Kim on eight-under with successive rounds of 66, a spectacular effort by the 27-year-old Colombian considering his 72-hour flying visit home to Bogota earlier this week prevented him from playing a practice round.

US Ryder Cup star Kim, England's Paul Casey and Canadian duo Mike Weir and Stephen Ames propelled themselves into contention with course record-equalling rounds of 64.

Yet frustration was the name of the game for Rory McIlroy as he failed to join the birdie fest, a one-under par 69 sending him into the weekend on level par. McIlroy had just two birdies yesterday, while Padraig Harrington had only one as a second successive 71 saw him through to the weekend on two-over.

Honda Classic,

Live, Sky Sports 2, 8.0

Irish Independent

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