Rory McIlroy's tribute to 'The King' as Graeme McDowell roars into contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Graeme McDowell insists he must not become obsessed by qualifying for The Open this week despite firing a four-under 68 to roar into contention in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
The Portrush native (39) desperately wants to play in the game's oldest Major on home turf in July, but while there are spots on offer for the top-three non-exempt players finishing in the top ten this week, he knows he can't afford to heap more pressure on his shoulders after losing his PGA Tour card last year.
"I haven't played very well historically with a gun to my head," said the former world No 4, now 259th, and playing on a sponsor's invitation this week.
He added: "Of course the big goal this year is to be at Portrush and to play The Open Championship in my home town six weeks after the US Open at Pebble Beach. So it's going to be a special summer, if I can get myself there.
"The game's there right now; I've just got to get out of my own way and have a little fun with it and not have things like that rattle around in my head too much."
Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello shot a seven-under 65 to lead by two shots from Keegan Bradley with McDowell a further shot back in joint third after bouncing back from two bogeys in his first three holes.
But while McDowell's playing partner Shane Lowry made six birdies and four bogeys in an encouraging, two-under 70, the new-found patience of defending champion Rory McIlroy was tried to the limit before he salvaged a level par 72 with two late birdies.
McIlroy took to the course in tribute to Palmer himself, with the Northern Irishman dressed head to toe like 'The King'.
"I hit some pretty wayward shots out there," said McIlroy, who hit just seven fairways but two-putted the par-five 16th and then made a 20 footer at par-three 17th to undo the damage.
"It would have been nice to shoot under par in the end but I am only three shots off the top 10 and the way the forecast is with a little wind and a bit of heat the course is going to dry out, and it is already playing pretty tricky.
"I'll go out in the morning and try and shoot a good one, and I will be right there for the weekend."
McDowell showed he's still a dangerous player at a venue where he finished second in 2005 and 2012, following bogeys at the second and third with four birdies and an eagle at the 16th.
On the European Tour, Gavin Moynihan made six birdies in an adventurous, one-under 71 to share 38th, four shots behind pacesetters Adri Arnaus and Justin Walters in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Team Ireland's Neil O'Briain was tied 25th, five shots behind South Africa's JC Ritchie, after opening with a two-under 70 in the Sunshine Tour's Limpopo Championship.
In Florida, Leona Maguire carded a two-over par 74 on her return to Symetra Tour after her marathon journey from Australia, finishing the day seven shots behind leader Lauren Kim in the SkyiGolf Championship at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club.
- Qatar Masters, Live, Sky Sports, 7.30am
- Arnold Palmer Invitational, Live, Sky Sports, 7.0pm