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How Graeme McDowell fell foul of European Tour rules with Sky Sports' help in bizarre Saudi International scenario


Graeme McDowell is eight under at the halfway point in Saudi Arabia.

Graeme McDowell is eight under at the halfway point in Saudi Arabia.

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Graeme McDowell is eight under at the halfway point in Saudi Arabia.

Graeme McDowell was handed a slow play warning during an otherwise positive second round at the Saudi International on Friday but highlighted the part Sky Sports had to play.

McDowell shot a two under par 68 to go into the weekend eight under par and in third position, just two shots behind leader Victor Perez.

However, it was the warning that caused most intrigue after his round.

Under the European Tour's new rules to speed up the game, players must hit each shot within strict time limits and are only given one allowance per round before suffering a one-shot penalty.

Having just enjoyed back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth, his 13th and 14th holes of the day, McDowell had given a mid-round interview to Sky Sports' on course reporter Tim Barter when coming off the sixth tee box.

First to play a long second shot into the 470 yard par four, McDowell had 50 seconds to hit and was handed a warning after going over that allowance.

"I had just done an interview with Tim so I was 50 yards behind the guys (his playing partners)," he explained. "I got up there, was first to go and I had 215 yards into the wind. It was a difficult shot."

Also under the Tour's new rules, players are allowed to request one time extension per round but, as McDowell explained, it's something that will take time to adjust to.

"I would have called a time out if that was something that was automatic in my brain," he said. "It's just not something I think about out there. I called a time out after I hit the shot but the referee was not really willing to give me any room for error.

"It upset my rhythm a bit but we have to play faster. Slow golf doesn’t help the viewer and doesn’t help the club golfer.

"My routine is getting better and better and it’s something I’m working on."

Victory could have huge implications for McDowell, who would be catapulted from 104th to the top 50 of the world rankings. It's that mark that he must hit at the end of March to secure a place at the Masters.

The fact that it's now within shooting distance is evidence of his return to form, just 10 months after he was ranked outside the world's top 250.

McDowell has secured top 25 finishes in five of his last seven outings and says his progress has been helped by his own acceptance of his golfing identity.

The Portrush man has relied on accuracy over power to put himself into position this week. During his opening round, he hit all 14 fairways and missed only three greens but was ranked way down in 51st for driving distance at an average of 305 yards.

There was a time when McDowell would have been greedy for more than those statistics, but not now.

"I’ve gone through the process of trying to get longer with speed sticks and jumping around but it affects the rest of my game too much," he explained.

"I’m long enough to complete. I’m driving the ball average distances which is enough to compete most weeks so I’m trying to get better at what I’m good at. That’s my wedge shots from 150 yards in, chipping, bunker play and putting. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s a hard game and driving 350 yards off the tee is just one part of it."

Starting on the 10th in his second round at Royal Greens, McDowell once again had trouble on the par three 11th, adding a bogey to Thursday's double at the only hole to cost him shots this week.

A birdie at the 15th was followed by back-to-backs at the fourth and fifth, with a clutch par putt on the seventh ensuring he reached the week's midway point at eight under par.

"It’s always hard to come out after a good round and try and keep the pedal down," he said. "It was better conditions today but the three putt at 11 derailed me a little bit. I continued to hit fairways, which is key on this course, and hit some quality iron shots.

"The back nine is the more difficult so it was tough to get going but it was nice to hang in there with a couple of birdies on the front. Overall I’m very happy with how I hit the ball and I’m looking forward to the weekend."

Fellow Northern Irishman Cormac Sharvin carded a much-improved three under par 67 to sit two over for the tournament but is set to miss the cut by two shots.

Open champion Shayne Lowry also shot three under to get to -4 for the week, where he joins Phil Mickelson, who birdied his final hole of the day for level par.

World number one Brooks Koepka will sneak through to the weekend after a 69 left him one under.

Just don't bet on G-Mac doing too many more on-course interviews.

Belfast Telegraph