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McDowell finishes with flourish to scorch up leaderboard

GRAEME McDOWELL is a man on fire! The Portrush hero blazed his way up the leaderboard at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a sensational five-birdie finish.

In racing parlance, McDowell then had to endure a brief 'stewards enquiry' as chief referee Andy McFee examined super-slow-mo TV footage to determine if the Ulsterman's ball had moved at address on his third shot (into the green) at 18. The official detected only the slightest oscillation so McDowell was cleared to sign for the 66 which placed him in a three-way tie for third on six-under with Swedish duo Alex Noren and Niclas Fasth, two shy of leader Charl Schwartzel.

Suggestions that the matter had been brought to official attention by an armchair TV fan were later dismissed.

McDowell admitted he'd been a tad lethargic on the front nine, which he completed in level par. Then, after a nice up-and-down birdie from a green-side bunker at 10, he missed three decent birdie chances, leading him to sigh in exasperation on 13: "I just can't read these greens."

Yet after a year of astonishing success, McDowell firmly believed that the high-quality golf he was playing yesterday eventually would pay off.

And it did in spades after a lovely birdie at 14 sparked a finishing streak which gives McDowell the adrenalin-boost he needs as he comes to the end of a sensational seven-month stint on the world's fairways.

McDowell's resilience was seen best on 16, where he holed a huge putt for a birdie, a putt which few would have imagined possible after his tee shot landed in a tricky lie close to the edge of a fairway bunker.

Paul McGinley shared 23rd on two-under with a 70 he described as "a typical first round of the year, though still satisfying" on a 7,600-yard course which puts added pressure on medium-length hitters to find the narrow fairways.

Rory McIlroy should relish this challenge, but ring rust left his long game a little unpredictable. Frustratingly, when he did strike class shots, he could hardly buy a putt during a first-round 71 which left him tied 41st on one-under with Damien McGrane, Darren Clarke and Gareth Maybin.

Irish Independent