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In-form Graeme McDowell back in the hunt

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Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell is set for the renewal of an old Ryder Cup rivalry as he and Hunter Mahan battled near the top of the Players Championship yesterday.

Seven months after their match decided the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor - in Europe's favour - the pair were chasing leader David Toms hard after their second rounds at Sawgrass.

McDowell followed up his opening 67 with a 69 to reach halfway on the eight under par mark of 136, only two behind 2001 US PGA champion Toms.

And Mahan was only one further back after a seven-birdie 67, the joint best round of the day from the early starters.

After a couple of months in which Ulster's US Open champ confessed he'd been "swinging the club like an idiot", McDowell believes he has rediscovered the Midas touch which made him the world's hottest golfer in 2010.

McDowell, 31, is relishing a weekend of wide-eyed, white-knuckle adventure on Pete Dye's famous Stadium Course.

"To be honest, I probably backed into my good results this year in Hawaii, Abu Dhabi and the Honda Classic," he admitted. "I haven't put myself in position going into Saturday this year.

"So on the first tee yesterday, I said to my caddie (Ken Comboy) 'I'm missing being in contention so let's go and put ourselves in with a shout this weekend'," McDowell explained, adding: "You know, I'm really happy to be back in there - it's where you want to be on the weekends."

After missing the cut in three of his last four events, including the US Masters, McDowell had been deep in the doldrums until last weekend, when he says "a light switch flicked on" during a lengthy remedial session with his coach Pete Cowen.

As for Phil Mickelson, it was a real tale of two halves for the world number four.

After covering the back nine in 31 with three birdies and an eagle putt of nearly 40 feet at the 16th he came home in 40 - only two better than Tiger Woods managed before limping out of the tournament on day one.

All that left Mickelson back on two under after a second successive 71.

McDowell was out in 34 and started for home with two more birdies, only to double bogey the 12th after hitting a tree and then duffing his pitch. His response was instant, though.

He was only a foot away from an ace at the short 13th and while there were more bogeys to come on the 14th and 17th he birdied the long 16th and struck a brilliant 154-yard approach to within four feet of the final flag for his seventh birdie.

In contrast, Mahan closed with a bogey, but that was nothing compared to Mickelson's finish and Alvaro Quiros - four successive bogeys from the fourth after reaching eight under.

Steve Stricker was alongside McDowell in second place after a 67, however, and overnight leader Nick Watney was on the same mark and only just setting off for his second round.

* Darren Clarke continued to keep himself in frame to end a three-year winless drought with a level par 70 and move into a share of second place after two rounds of the Iberdrola Open in Majorca.

Clarke fought back after taking a double bogey to birdie four of the first six holes to finish tied with Matthew Nixon who also carded a 70.

England's Chris Wood recorded a five under par 65 to move three clear at eight under par.

Belfast Telegraph