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McDowell needs to up game to make weekend

 

Poor start: Graeme McDowell in last night’s first round
Poor start: Graeme McDowell in last night’s first round

By Adam McKendry

Graeme McDowell will need to pull out a big performance today at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida after a poor first round left him outside the cut mark after 18 holes.

The 39-year-old shot a two-over opening round of 72 at the PGA National to lie eight shots back of overnight leader Jhonattan Vegas.

McDowell fell foul of the infamous 'Bear Trap' at PGA National - a devilish stretch of three holes near the end of the round - finding the water on the par-three 15th, which led to one of three bogeys in his round.

The Rathmore man also dropped shots on the eighth and 14th, with his only gained stroke coming after a sublime approach shot on the par-three 17th, which yielded a birdie when he drained a 12-foot putt.

McDowell is just one stroke off the projected cut mark after the first round, with the Ulsterman likely to require an under-par round to ensure he sticks around for the weekend.

Meanwhile, the day belonged to Vegas, who holds an early two-shot lead after he fired a bogey-free 64 to take control of the leaderboard early on in Palm Beach Gardens.

The Venezuelan hit six birdies on his way to the six-under round, which included gained shots at the 17th and 18th to cap an impressive day.

His nearest challengers are former US Open champion Lucas Glover, two-time Major winner Zach Johnson and veteran Ernie Els, who headline the chasing pack tied for second at four-under par alongside Canada's Ben Silverman, while World No.4 Brooks Koepka is among a large group sitting at three-under.

Ireland's Seamus Power fared one shot worse than McDowell, only able to card a three-over par 73, leaving him with even more work to do if he wants to be around for the final two rounds.

Meanwhile, American Kurt Kitayama claimed a narrow lead after the first round of the Oman Open in Muscat.

Kitayama, who came through all three stages of the qualifying school in 2018 and won on just his third European Tour start in Mauritius in December, recorded four birdies and an eagle in a flawless opening 66 at Al Mouj Golf.

That gave the World No.206 a one-shot lead over Scotland's Scott Jamieson and Japan's Yusaku Miyazato, with former Ryder Cup star Thomas Pieters and England's David Horsey part of a seven-strong group on four-under.

Defending champion Joost Luiten was a shot further back after a 69, with last year's runner-up Chris Wood on level par in his first start of 2019 following an injury lay-off.

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