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McDowell loses his head as driver error derails title challenge


Graeme McDowell inspects his driver for damage. Photo: Getty Images

Graeme McDowell inspects his driver for damage. Photo: Getty Images

Graeme McDowell inspects his driver for damage. Photo: Getty Images

GRAEME McDOWELL was badly let down by an old 'friend' yesterday, denying him the opportunity to join Ulster's other hotshots at the top of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

With Rory McIlroy tied for the lead, Gareth Maybin sharing third on four-under after a brilliant bogey-free 68 and Michael Hoey's first-round 70 placing him just inside the top 10, Northern lights clearly are blazing brightly in the Arabian desert.

Though he played well enough to threaten the lead yesterday, McDowell's driver packed in at a critical moment, leading to the double-bogey at 17 which knocked him back on his heels.

The 2010 US Open champion heard a slight rattle in the driver head after hitting his first shot of the day and was convinced "something's not quite right here" when he bounced a ball on its face after hitting his tee shot at 16.

"As I walked to 17, I thought to myself: 'If this driver's got just one more swing in it, please let it be this one, because it's one of the two toughest drives on the course and I can't hit a three-wood here'."

McDowell's prayer wasn't heard. The back of the 18-month-old Callaway's head almost blew off as he struck his drive 'on the meat' at 17, his ball falling into the lake less than 220 yards into its flight, 15 yards short of dry land.

"I then had to hit a three-wood up the last, which landed me in trouble in the rough. The back of the head's hanging off," said McDowell. "I've never had the head come off before."

He will press into service a new Cleveland Classic he has been testing, but he feels a wrench in writing off the driver he used for his vital tee shot at Celtic Manor's 16th hole on the Monday at the 2010 Ryder Cup and again in victory at that year's Valderrama Masters and Chevron World Challenge.

A 72 left McDowell tied 35th with Darren Clarke.

Padraig Harrington was satisfied with his one-under par 71 as he comes to terms with new routines recommended during this week's 'trial' with mental coach David Alred, who helped transform Luke Donald into a world-beater.

Remarkably, Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Jose Manuel Lara both aced the 186-yard 12th.

Garcia's first hole-in-one on the European Tour was struck with his seven-iron. They each win three nights per year for life at the seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel. Both laughed off mischievous suggestions they'd have to share a room!

Abu Dhabi Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 6.0; Sky Sports 2, 10.0

Farmers Insurance Open,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent