Sunday 18 March 2018

McDowell glad to stop 'pointing gun at own head'

Shane Lowry escapes from a green-side bunker during yesterday’s second round of the Turkish Airlines Open
Shane Lowry escapes from a green-side bunker during yesterday’s second round of the Turkish Airlines Open

Brian Keogh in Belek

Graeme McDowell confessed that putting away the "gun he's had pointed at his own head" helped him card his best round of the year in the Turkish Airlines Open yesterday.

But the bad news for the Portrush man, whose 65 left him within touching distance of leader Jaco Van Zyl at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal, is that Rory McIlroy is a shot ahead of him and hasn't even loaded his heavy weapons just yet.

As Shane Lowry confessed that he was delighted to "get out of jail" with a scrappy 70 that leaves him eight shots off the lead, McIlroy fired a second successive bogey-free 67 in the opening event of the $7m Final Series to lurk just four strokes off the pace in a share of sixth.


South African pacesetter Van Zyl followed his opening 61 with a slightly stuttering 69 to lead by two strokes from Englishmen Richard Bland (65) and Chris Wood (66) on 14 under par.

But, while McDowell is just one stroke behind McIlroy on nine under and only five shots off the lead in joint eighth after a bogey-free 65, the Holywood star is an intimidating presence on the leaderboard.

Ten strokes behind Van Zyl at one stage, the former world No 1 didn't appear to break sweat as he cut the gap to just four by day's end as he holed a 10-footer for a pitch-and-putt par five after he'd been forced to take a penalty drop from a bush off a hooked tee shot on the 18th.

Asked if he was playing well within himself, the four-time Major winner tried to sound modest but said: "Yeah, very. I feel like this is as stress-free a pair of 67s as I've shot this year."

The bad news for Van Zyl, Bland (who came home in 28), Wood or even fourth-placed Victor Dubuisson (64) or Fabrizio Zanotti (66) is that McIlroy hasn't so much as put a toe near the accelerator pedal just yet.

"I feel like there is (more under the bonnet)," McIlroy said almost nonchalantly. "I've made a couple of good putts to save pars over the past couple of days. But for the most part I'm giving myself chances on most greens.

"I think I have left a few out there. So I definitely feel like there's a lot more to come. I feel like I can hit the ball a little better. I can definitely get my wedges closer, and if I get my wedges closer, I'll give myself putts for birdies."

McDowell might have played better golf at times this year but he hasn't scored as low since he shot a seven-under-par 65 in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic in January.

He tied for ninth there, which remains his only Top 10 of a forgettable season that has seen him slither from 15th to 80th in the world this week.

While he said on Tuesday that he was looking for a top-two finish at least this week or he would head back to the US to finish the year with a pair of Fall Series starts, the 2010 US Open champion admitted that he was simply looking for confidence rather than giving himself any ultimatums.

"I am really trying to look at the big picture at the minute," McDowell said when asked about the battle he faces to qualify for the World Golf Championships, the Masters or even the Ryder Cup team next year.

"I am not out there, as I was for most of the year, feeling like I had a gun pointed to my head and it was me pointing the gun.

"I put myself under far too much pressure going into the summer because I hadn't played well and I am not the type of guy who reacts well to that."

Rather than stressing about results, McDowell is simply rediscovering his game before demanding more of himself as he adjusts to the life changes that game with marriage and parenthood over the last 18 months.

"I am really looking at next year, trying to build my confidence and working on my technique and feeling much better all round," he said. "The top 50 will take care of itself, as will the Ryder Cup. . ."

As for Lowry, he was pleased to "get out of jail" and two-putt birdie at the last for a 70 and a share of 19th on six under.

"There is no doubt about it, it was getting a bit annoying that he was getting away from me today," Lowry said of the superiority of playing partner McIlroy.

"I didn't feel like I was playing well and he was taking the flags out. That's not easy.

"But that happens every week. No matter who you are playing with on Thursday or Friday, you don't want to be beaten by them."

Turkish Airlines Open,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.0am

Irish Independent

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