WATCH - Graeme McDowell capitalises on flying start to hold the joint lead at the Qatar Masters
Graeme McDowell's long road back to the top of the game could be shorter than expected after the former US Open champion made an excellent start to the Qatar Masters.
McDowell arrived in Doha ranked 91st in the world and prepared for years of hard work to get back to the sort of golf which produced 10 European Tour titles and four consecutive Ryder Cup appearances.
Missing out on last year's contest at Hazeltine has given McDowell extra motivation, especially with the 2018 contest taking place at Le Golf National in Paris, where he has won the French Open twice.
And the 37-year-old looked much closer to that sort of form as he carded an opening 66 at Doha Golf Club to share the early clubhouse lead with England's Nathan Kimsey and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Starting from the 10th, McDowell birdied his first three holes and picked up further shots on the 14th, 16th and 18th to race to the turn in just 30 shots, before adding another birdie on the second.
The only blemish on McDowell's scorecard came with a three-putt bogey on the sixth, while Kimsey and Aphibarnrat also had seven birdies and just one bogey in the unusually calm conditions.
"First round and tournament of the year and to birdie 10, 11, 12 was a special way to start and certainly got me in a very relaxed frame of mind," McDowell told reporters.
"It was nice to keep building and keep hitting good shots but there is a long way to go. There are lots of good players here and I'll definitely keep the head down and hope to keep playing well.
"It's always been one of those courses that appealed to me on a lot of levels. Conditions being tougher, I typically play tough courses well and to go out and post a low one this morning was a nice start to proceedings.
"I felt good on the greens, my iron play was very good and I got the ball in play mostly off the tee. It's only round one but I liked the way I felt out there."
Kimsey secured his European Tour card by winning the qualifying school in November and almost matched McDowell's blistering start by covering the back nine in 31.
The world number 1,471 briefly held the outright lead when he followed a birdie on the first with another on the seventh, only to bogey the par-three eighth after a wayward tee shot.