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McDowell finds a little extra to come back from the brink

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Graeme McDowell watches a putt on the first green during a practice round in Arizona

Graeme McDowell watches a putt on the first green during a practice round in Arizona

AP

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the second hole during his match against Boo Weekley in Arizona yesterday

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot on the second hole during his match against Boo Weekley in Arizona yesterday

Getty Images

Rickie Fowler plays a fairway shot on the first hole during the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona

Rickie Fowler plays a fairway shot on the first hole during the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona

Getty Images

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Graeme McDowell watches a putt on the first green during a practice round in Arizona

TRUE grit, sheer guts and match play glory! Feisty Graeme McDowell applied this magic formula once again yesterday as he came back from the dead against Gary Woodland to complete a stunning first round victory at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Three down with three to play against the US Tour's ultimate driving machine, McDowell brilliantly took advantage as Woodland coughed and spluttered, winning 16 in par and the final two holes in birdie before clinching it with another at 19, the par four first at the Ritz-Carlton Club.

Rory McIlroy dispatched Boo Weekley 3&2. After some interesting early skirmishing with the former US Ryder Cup player, McIlroy birdied three on the trot to go through the turn three-under par and three clear and the Holywood star eased four ahead with another birdie at 11.

Weekly got one back at 12 but failed to take advantage after McIlroy needed a couple of whacks to get out of trouble in the desert. The Ulsterman now faces Texan Harris English, 5&3 conqueror of Lee Westwood.

McDowell, who now plays hot Japanese prospect Hideki Matsuyama, admitted: "I thought I was on my way home. The Cadillacs were circling when Gary hit a 6-iron all over the flag at 16." Yet Woodland's tee shot landed in deep trouble through the back of the green.

The powerful American (29), who leads the all-round driving stats on the US Tour, literally blitzed McDowell as he played the first eight holes in five-under to go four ahead.

But 2010 US Open champion McDowell is never beaten and, as we have come to expect of the reigning Volvo World Match Play Champion and European Ryder Cup stalwart, just the tiniest glimmer of hope was all the Portrush native needed to prise out a great victory.

This WGC was hit by a seismic shock as Europe's Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter, fell 2&1 to Rickie Fowler in the opening match.

Accenture champion in 2010, Poulter had hoped the whiff of match play cordite would rouse him from recent lethargy on the PGA Tour. Yet machismo doesn't work if not backed-up by decent golf and he fell at the first hurdle for the third time in four years.

In fairness, under new coach Butch Harmon, Fowler's beginning to rediscover the confidence and flair which helped establish him as a Ryder Cup player in 2010, his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

The American (25) snuck ahead with a birdie at the short fourth and loped three clear as Poulter made slipshod bogeys at six and seven. Poulter's putter lacked that mystical Medinah sparkle and he never managed to get any closer than two.

The highlight for Fowler was a whopping 50-foot putt he holed for eagle three at 13. He plays the PGA Tour's man-of-the-moment and Harmon 'schoolmate' Jimmy Walker today.

Matt Kuchar thought he'd wrapped-up a 5&4 win over Berndt Wiesberger at 15, then discovered he'd forgotten to replace his ball marker after moving it to facilitate the Austrian.

The defending champ sealed a 3&2 victory at 16, where, ironically, he remembered to put his marker back in its original place.

Meanwhile, bringing the Irish Open back to Northern Ireland after the success of 2012 was always a no-brainer for the European Tour.

But by selecting the 'other' Royal – County Down – for next year's tournament, the European Tour has pulled another rabbit from the hat.

It's always the hope to attract the top American players to European Tour events. Taking the event of one of the best courses in the world certainly can't hurt in that regard for next summer.

ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 6.00PM

Irish Independent