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Irish Open 2015: Graeme McDowell determined to tame the beast at Royal County Down

By Steven Beacom

Graeme McDowell labelled the Royal County Down golf course 'a beast' just moments after his opening round at this year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

The Portrush native, who has a way with words, also described it as 'borderline evil' in the difficult weather conditions.

And then he declared that it was as challenging as an Open Championship and the toughest test he had encountered for a few years.

For all that, you knew the 35-year-old relished the experience.

And the large galleries supporting him enjoyed watching him do so.

McDowell is a fighter. When the going gets tough, American based G-Mac is renowned on both sides of the Atlantic for getting going and, even though he finished his round yesterday with three bogeys, the 2010 US Open champion was content to end with a one over par 72 ahead of round two today.

He had been on course to tame 'the beast' in the morning when he moved to two under par and a share of the lead, following three birdies in a row around the turn, until a tricky closing stretch at seven, eight and nine put him in blue numbers rather than red.

He made the point, though, that despite the late disappointment he was very much in contention to win his first Irish Open, stressing that patience is going to be the key if the rain, hail, shine and blustery winds of opening day continue through the next three.

"The conditions were very, very tough out there. It was disappointing to finish with three bogeys but, all in all, for me it was a good return," said McDowell, who was cheered on by the locals at every hole.

"There is no point being tied for the lead on Thursday. I need to be up there on Sunday.

"I hit some really good shots, I hit some average ones as well but I was generally happy with the way I hit the ball and I'm looking forward to getting back at it on Friday.

"Hitting three bogeys to finish never makes lunch taste good, but the thing that was sharp all day was my pace putting. When you balance it all out anything around level par would have been decent on the day and I'll take one over.

"This golf course is a beast. And today it was all about hanging tough.

"I think you have to hang around over the next couple of days because the weather is going to play a massive part and you have to make sure you are in touch.

"There is a lot to do this weekend. There is going to be a lot of bogeys made and you have to make sure you are making fewer than the rest and at the same time make as many birdies as possible.

"I feel comfortable on this golf course. There are a few holes that give me the heebie jeebies, like number seven and the second shot to eight is very difficult, but I just have to keep executing game plans and shape my shots a lot better and keep hanging in there."

Earlier in the week McDowell had talked about the dangerous par three seventh hole and the potential 'carnage' it could bring.

Yesterday he used his impressive vocabulary to go at it again, after hitting a bogey four.

"Number seven is 145 yards of sheer terror," said McDowell, who was playing alongside European Ryder Cup team mates Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lee Westwood.

"I'm not sure I've played a tougher par three.

"It is a very, very difficult hole and that is reflected in the scoring. You have three top 50 players in the world standing on a 145 yard par three and not being able to sniff the green."

On the course and conditions as a whole, he said: "It's been a while since I've played something this tough. This is as tough as it's been in a few years in regards to strong winds.

"This westerly wind plays across you all day and it doesn't give you much. It is borderline evil in these conditions."

Royal Portrush, which staged the Irish Open in 2012, is scheduled to host The Open in the next few years. McDowell believes Royal County Down could do the same.

He said: "This is raw, this is Britain and Ireland. It is fun to come back and play this type of golf.

"This is proper Open Championship. You could put the grandstands up right now and have an Open Championship here. It is set up, it is ready to go, it is tough and it will really require some good golf to win here."

That's what McDowell intends to deliver today when he is out in the afternoon and over the weekend when, if Rory McIlroy were to miss the cut, he will have even bigger crowds following him than turned out yesterday.

England's Westwood and Spaniard Jimenez will also feel they have a genuine chance of lifting the trophy.

The ever popular Jimenez enjoyed the encouragement of the fans at Royal County Down on his way to a one over 72, which included three birdies, while Westwood, despite a quickfire start, which had him at two under after five, finished three over.

They may not be leading the pack but, as McDowell said, at this stage it is all about staying in the tournament rather than blowing yourself out of it.

Further Reading

Irish Open: Catch me if you can is reborn Padraig Harrington's cry 

Irish Open: Darren Clarke says course was great, he just made too many errors 

Irish Open: Tee-off times in the second round of the European Tour's Irish Open

Irish Open: World No 1 Rory McIlroy well below par as his homecoming turns into a nightmare

Irish Open: Pals are expecting Rory McIlory to roar back

Irish Open: Patience pays off but Rickie Fowler wanted more

  Irish Open: Graeme McDowell determined to tame the beast at Royal County Down

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