G-Mac shines as Rory and Tiger prove hit and miss
Graeme McDowell upstaged Rory McIlroy's high-octane clash with Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas when he opened with a confidence-boosting 69 in the Genesis Open at a firm and fast Riviera last night.
Ranked 219th in the world, win-less since 2015 and coming off three successive missed cuts to start the year, the Portrush man (38) had an encouraging opening round in Los Angeles.
Tied with Thomas, who also shot 69 to McIlroy's level-par 71 and Woods' 72, G-Mac desperately needs a good week to boost his self-esteem.
He got off to a lovely start, two-putting comfortably for birdie at the first before chipping in from 50 feet for a two at the 230-yard fourth.
McDowell might have missed his first three cuts of 2018, but there were few signs of rust as he saved par from eight feet at the fifth, then rolled in a 12-footer at the seventh for another birdie to move into the early lead.
He eventually dropped a shot at the 13th, where he missed the green and failed to get up and down. But it was a solid performance, and so was McIlroy's despite enjoying little luck with the putter.
The good news is that the Holywood star managed to avoid three-putting on the treacherously quick poa annua greens.
But he got little reward for some great ball-striking and apart from the 27-footer he drained for an eagle three at his 10th hole to get back to level-par, the longest putts he holed were a couple of four-footers for par.
McIlroy needed no putts at all at his opening hole - the driveable 10th - where he looked likely to make bogey after he hit his three-wood into the rough right of the green and bunkered his pitch.
But just when a par looked highly unlikely, he could only grin sheepishly when he holed out for an unlikely birdie three that was matched by both Woods and Thomas, who had laid up with irons.
McIlroy and Woods then mixed the sublime with the frustrating for the rest of the day.
Struggling from the tee early on but putting well, the American lost a ball in a eucalyptus tree at the par-five 11th and made an ugly double-bogey seven, then followed a bogey at the 12th with a birdie from 13 feet at the 13th.
After another poor drive at the 15th put him two-over again, he birdied the 608-yard 17th from five feet to turn in one-over, then came home in level with birdies at the first and eighth cancelled out by dropped shots at the fifth and seventh.
"I made a lot of birdies but also some silly bogeys," Woods said after his 72.
"It's playing tough. The greens are firming up and that first hop is amazing, especially coming downwind. But I fought back."
A poor wedge that flew the green from 103 yards cost McIlroy a shot at the 11th but after pulling his 193-yard approach to the 12th to drop another shot, he was puffing out his cheeks after missing birdie chances inside 10 feet at the 13th and 16th.
After another short iron went long at the 17th and he bogeyed after flubbing a tough chip, he was two-over for the day.
Yet while he sparked back into life with that eagle three from 26 feet at the downhill, par-five first, he hit some glorious shots coming home for no reward.
Pádraig Harrington started by rapping in a 47-footer for eagle at the first but while he birdied the 10th, dropped shots at the fourth, ninth, and 15th saw him finish alongside McIlroy with a 71.
Shane Lowry struggled for momentum as he mixed two birdies with four bogeys in a two-over 73 and has work to do to make the cut.