McDowell kickstarts bid for British Open berth
Graeme McDowell, twice a winner of the Open de France, started his latest challenge for the prestigious title with a solid 69, two under par, to lie five shots off the lead held by Paul Waring at Le Golf National yesterday.
England's Waring came with a late run to card 64 and give himself a two-shot cushion to closest challengers Nathan Kimsey (England), Ryder Cup player Thomas Pieters and Sweden's Thomas Bjork.
Waring's short game and putting were red hot on the back nine, where he took just nine putts.
Kimsey and Bjork are Tour rookies this season and as such, were the surprise packets in a top-class field, all chasing a share of the $7m prize fund in the second of the European Tour's Rolex Series.
McDowell was best of the Irish on a notoriously challenging course - the closing four holes are rated as among the toughest finishing stretches in the game.
The 2010 US Open winner negotiated his way steadily through the 18 holes, carding two birdies and a bogey on each nine.
G-Mac has a double mission this week. Apart from his desire to contend for a third French victory, he is gambling on earning a place in the Open Championship by playing his way into Royal Birkdale instead of entering Final Qualifying to be played next Tuesday at five venues in Scotland and England.
Three places at Royal Birkdale are available from Paris, Portstewart (DDF Irish Open) next week and Dundonald Links (Scottish Open) the week after that for three players plus ties in the top ten who are not already exempt.
Paul Dunne is taking the same route. Yesterday the Greystones man made a decent start with a 70.
Shane Lowry, already qualified for the Open, faces an uphill battle to avoid the cut today after an opening 74.
Lowry reeled off seven pars and two birdies on the front nine to turn in 34, but the Offaly man was five over par for his last six holes.
Meanwhile, Dermot McElroy, Gavin Moynihan and Michael Hoey, all of them sponsor's invitees for the DDF Irish Open next week, started strongly in the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at MacDonald Spey Valley.
Richard James of Wales led on 65 (six under), but McElroy was joint second on 67, while Hoey filed 68. Moynihan shot 69.
Seamus Power, the only Irish player in the Quicken Loans National, was in the last group to tee off at TPC Potomac.
Troy Merritt, Marc Leishman, Johnson Wagner and Sung Kang held the clubhouse lead on 66, four under par.
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