| 3.6°C Belfast

Graeme McDowell uses 'hang tough' Portrush mentality to tie the lead at Saudi International


Graeme McDowell was a man in form during the opening round of the Saudi International.

Graeme McDowell was a man in form during the opening round of the Saudi International.

Getty Images

Graeme McDowell was a man in form during the opening round of the Saudi International.

Graeme McDowell has used his north coast golf grounding to tie for the lead in a rather different setting at the Saudi International.

The Portrush man shot a six under par 64 to join Gavin Green at the top of the board after a windy opening day's play.

One of the last on the course, McDowell had to deal with the more breezy afternoon conditions as wind speeds reached 12 miles per hour.

Even the likes of world number one Brooks Koepka (+1) admitted they were using McDowell's north coast experience and tactics to tackle the tricky weather.

But none could match the man himself as he carded eight birdies, including three in a row to finish his round.

"Playing well in these conditions is just about trying to stay patient, being able to hang tough, hit fairways, hit greens and obviously being a good putter helps as well to clean up any mistakes," he explained.

It's little wonder, in that case, that McDowell's play yielded results as he hit all 14 fairways and missed only three greens in regulation, his accurate short irons cutting through the wind to set up makeable birdie attempts.

"It feels good," admitted the world number 104, who is facing the mammoth task of reaching the top 50 in time to qualify for the Masters in April.

"I got off to a fast start which was huge, before the wind got up. That was inevitable out here in the middle east. You get flat calm mornings but you know it's going to blow in the afternoons.

"It was nice to get out of there with six under because I felt like I played great. It would have been a horrible round to let get away."

McDowell threatened to allow all of his promising play, including a flawless front nine that featured four birdies on the spin, to slip through his fingers with a double bogey on the 151 yard par three 11th.

Finding the sand to the right of the green, it soon went from bad to worse.

"Eleven was disappointing," he explained. "The tee shot was probably my weakest shot of the day. I then had a big rock under my ball so it wasn't a very good lie. I knifed it across the green, hit a fantastic third and a good putt but missed it.

"To respond the way I did, birdie the next and play as solidly as I did over the next four or five holes was pleasing. It's always important to bounce back.

"I'm looking forward to getting back out there in the morning. It should be flatter wind conditions and I'll hopefully continue to make some birdies."

McDowell has finished in the top 25 in five of his last seven outings but, hoping to enjoy the most favourable conditions in round two, will be hoping to tee up a chance of an 11th European Tour victory and a first since 2014.

Playing alongside McDowell, Phil Mickelson carded a six under par back nine 29 to get round in four under par, one ahead of defending champion Dustin Johnson.

Open champion Shane Lowry made a disappointing bogey six on the reachable par five 18th to finish on two under par. The Offaly man came up short with his second and, with the ball teetering on the wall at the edge of a water hazard, opted to play rather than take a penalty drop, and succeeded only in duffing his third, which rolled past his feet and into the water.

Ardglass' Cormac Sharvin needs an impressive round to make the cut after shooting a five over par 75, four shots off the projected mark.

Tiger Woods and world number two Rory McIlroy both rejected the chance to play in the tournament, with McIlroy admitting there was a 'morality' to his decision not to tee it up in Saudi Arabia, whose human rights record was described as “appalling as ever” by Amnesty International earlier this month.

Belfast Telegraph