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Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy off the pace in Tiger tournament

By Karl MacGinty

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy produced solid opening rounds in the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in California last night.

Defending champion McDowell posted a one under par 72, while fellow Ulsterman and playing partner McIlroy – who won the Australian Open at Royal Sydney last weekend – is just one shot back.

Former US Open champion McDowell is looking to continue his love affair with a tournament – hosted by Tiger Woods – he has won twice and finished runner-up once in his three appearances.

He was in erratic form at times, though, with three bogeys and two birdies.

Zach Johnson topped the leaderboard on five under par.

Johnson made a tremendous start at the Sherwood County Club with birdies in his opening two holes and although he bogeyed the par-four seventh, he picked up another two shots after the turn.

That left the American two shots ahead of compatriots Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson, as well as McDowell. World number one Woods played solidly and was on one under par.

It was a rather more forgettable day for England's two entrants – Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are two and four over respectively.

Meanwhile, Simon Dyson has been given a two-month ban from the European Tour, suspended for 18 months, but was cleared of "a premeditated act of cheating" yesterday.

Dyson was joint second after 36 holes of the BMW Masters back in October when he was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score in the second round.

The 35-year-old failed to add a two-shot penalty to his card after an incident on the eighth hole at Lake Malaren, when he touched the line of his putt after marking his ball, using the ball to flatten a spike mark.

Having reviewed the incident after being alerted to it by television viewers, European Tour officials charged Dyson with a "serious breach" of the Tour's code of behaviour, a charge which was upheld when the Yorkshireman appeared before a three-person disciplinary panel at Wentworth.

Sweden's Helen Alfredsson has apologised for an "inappropriate and distasteful" remark made while commentating on the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters yesterday.

Alfredsson, who won 11 tournaments on the Ladies European Tour before retiring in September, is understood to have made reference to the helicopter crash which occurred in Glasgow last Friday, killing nine people.

The 48-year-old issued a statement via the LET which read: "Regretfully I made an inappropriate and distasteful comment on air and apologise unreservedly for any offence that was caused."

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