Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Gritty McDowell stays in the hunt

So close: Graeme McDowell shows the pain of a missed putt for birdie at the 15th last night at Bay Hill, Orlando
So close: Graeme McDowell shows the pain of a missed putt for birdie at the 15th last night at Bay Hill, Orlando

Graeme McDowell is showing good form at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando ahead of next month's Masters bid.

Orlando resident McDowell recovered from a sloppy bogey at one to propel himself up the leaderboard with an eagle three at six and four birdies to leave him five-under through 13.

However a bogey at 16 saw Portrush native G-Mac – who counts two runner-up finishes at Bay Hill among his six previous appearances in the event – finish on four-under 68, six off the pace set by Adam Scott.

Sadly, the tone for McDowell's fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke's day was set when he missed a five-footer for par at 10, his first.

In all, the 75 strokes which left Clarke wallowing on three-over with Lee Westwood included 32 putts, three of them at 15.

As title-holder Eldrick Woods nursed his creaking back at home, Scott gave a masterful impression of the young, once-rampant Tiger with a sensational 62.

Dubliner Padraig Harrington also had reason to be cheerful as he opened with a fairly neat and tidy 70.

Scott (31), who last April ended Australia's misery at Augusta by winning the Masters, showed he's coming into form in perfect time for next month's defence of the Green Jacket as he equalled the course record at Bay Hill.

"I'm really thrilled with the start," said the world number two.

"I don't know where it came from but the putter certainly got hot. Today was just one of those days where the hole was like a bucket."

Fittingly, nobody has gone around this course in 10-under par since Scott's boyhood idol and Augusta fall-guy Greg 'The Shark' Norman in 1984.

Three years earlier, Andy Bean was first to make a 62 here, but Palmer has made his course longer and considerably tougher in recent years.

Yet, with its greens softened by overnight rain and barely a puff of wind, Bay Hill was vulnerable and Scott took full advantage, landing six birdies and two spectacular eagles.

"It's wonderful," said Palmer (83). "I don't mind anyone going around in 62.

"Adam played really well to do it and that's fine by me. You know, he played the par fives in six-under!"

Central to Scott's performance and his transformation into a force at the Major Championships in recent years, was an infallible display with that huge broom-handled putter.

The dapper Australian had nine one-putt greens, amounting to a staggering 135 feet in total.

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