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McDowell feels at home in the wind

By Karl MacGinty

A rasping breeze gusting to 25 miles per hour and a wintry nip in the air gave Portrush man Graeme McDowell a sense of home at Palm Beach Gardens yesterday as he compiled a deeply satisfying two-under-par 68 in the first round of The Honda Classic.

Close up: Darren Clarke on his way to a one-over par 73 in the first round of the Malaysian Open

At the best of times, the Champion Course at PGA National is arguably one of the toughest outside of the Majors, yet in yesterday's blustery, cold conditions it played like a real tartar. No surprise, therefore, to see the stroke- average soar to 72.6 by mid-afternoon.

Which makes the bogey-free 65 shot by clubhouse leader Nathan Green look remarkably good. The 34-year-old Australian, who claimed his maiden US Tour victory at last autumn's RBS Canadian Open, could hardly have dreamed of a better start.

McDowell was pretty chuffed with his effort too, especially after he'd bogeyed his first hole, the 508-yard par-four 10th, after his tee shot sailed into a fairway bunker; he then had to scramble smartly for his par at 11.

“When we started out on the back-nine early this morning, it was dark, cold and breezy,” he said. “It really felt a bit like home and 10 and 11 were particularly difficult. If you'd offered me two-under as I walked to the 12th tee, I'd have snatched your hand off.

“Though I got off to a slow start and bogeyed 10, I made some nice putts and hung in there on the back nine,” added McDowell, who turned in one-over and then picked up three birdies on the way home.

“The front-nine kind of offers up a few chances but this wind was tough. It was very hard to pick (your shot) at times with a lot of them blowing across. It was a tough test.

“It was European-style stuff. The course is in great shape but the rough's not as thick as years gone by. If we had thick rough out there, it'd be an unbelievably difficult test.”

Padraig Harrington's suggestion on Tuesday that after just six rounds and 17 holes of competitive golf since last December he's going to need more time to regain his competitive edge was fully borne out by the first-round 71 which left the Dubliner wallowing in mid-table on one-over.

In an interesting reversal of usual form, Holywood starlet Rory McIlroy struggled to control his tee ball but putted sublimely. After sinking par-saving putts from 30 feet and six feet respectively on the opening two holes, McIlroy made a nice chip and putt for a birdie four at three.

He dropped his first shot of the day at 14, where he drove into a fairway bunker. McIlroy stumbled to another bogey at the par-three 17th when he blocked his tee shot slightly and his ball joined 15 others in the water. He got up and down neatly at the last to save par for a one-over 71.

Darren Clarke was greeted at the entrance of the Maybank Malaysian Open with a poster of himself and the caption, ‘Come and get close to me'.

That's exactly what a handful of photographers sought to do on the opening tee of the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.

But Clarke was having none of it and politely reminded them to keep their distance. It did not prevent him pushing his drive way to the right off the first tee, though he did recover superbly to birdie the 367-metre uphill hole.

The Dungannon golfer carded a one-over 73 that included back-to-back birdies to finish.

Spain's Ignacio Garrido and Welshman Rhys Davies head the field after carding 65s.

Bookmaker has entered discussions concerning a five-year sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods.

The company's proposal would see an initial £5million paid for the use of Woods' likeness annually.

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