Staying in Paris mix can boost Ryder Cup hope: Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell believes he can put himself on the Ryder Cup "radar" after a super 68 left him lurking just a shot off the lead in the HNA Open de France.
Recently named as one of Thomas Bjorn's vice-captains, the four-time Ryder Cup star (38) believes it's not too late to challenge for a fifth cap at the Paris venue where he's already won twice.
While Welshman Bradley Dredge set the pace with a four-under-par 67, McDowell is tied for second with England's Andy Sullivan on three-under.
"This is where it all happened for me," said McDowell, now 177th in the world, who feels he can "freewheel" in Europe and forget about his struggle to keep his PGA Tour card.
"This is where I grew up and this is where the most familiar golf is for me, where I've won twice and I feel very comfortable."
He knows he can catch Bjorn's eye and land one of three exemptions for The Open if he wins in Europe for the first time since he won back to back Open de France titles in 2014.
"Obviously I would love to post a big finish this week and try to get myself back on the edge of that radar," he said, admitting that the confidence he took from a good performance at Wentworth in May has been "the missing x-factor" in his game.
"It's going to take some golf for me over the summer to be back on the radar, but if I could be on the edge of the radar somewhere, that would be nice. I still have an ambition to play on the team."
Shane Lowry bogeyed the 18th but still shot an excellent one-under 70 to share seventh with the likes of American World No.2 Justin Thomas and Spain's Jon Rahm.
No one was bogey-free, but McDowell was frequently impressive on a track that certainly got the attention of US PGA champion Thomas, who is on a Ryder Cup reconnaissance mission.
"It's very unlike a lot of the stuff we play on Tour," Thomas said after a hard-fought 70.
"I think all of us will be happy to know that this will be a match-play and not a stroke-play event.
"You get a cold, rainy, windy day out here and you can post a pretty high number."
McDowell feels right at home on a course where narrow fairways, punishing rough and myriad water hazards keep players on permanent red alert.
"Very pleased, especially the way I played the first kind of dozen holes," he said after mixing seven birdies with four bogeys.
"Having been coming here for years and having some success, I do stand on some of these tee boxes and feel a level of comfort."
He took advantage of a benign first hour, picking up shots at the 11th, 12th and 15th before being forced to dig deep in a tricky crosswind.
After sandwiching another birdie at the 17th between a brace of three-putt bogeys at the 16th and first, he hit back with two more birdies at the second and third, then bogeyed the fourth before hitting an eight-iron to 15 feet to save a miraculous par at the fifth after tangling with heavy rough.
"That felt good because I just bogeyed four, and if I bogeyed five, it felt like a round that was starting to slip away because it was starting to get tough," he said.
McDowell can only be looking forward to next week's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin where Gavin Moynihan, Paul McGinley, Ruaidhri McGee and Cormac Sharvin will also tee it up after getting invitations yesterday.
Meanwhile, Ballymena's Dermot McElroy fired a six-under 65 to lie just a shot behind locals Joachim B Hansen and Mark Flindt Haastrup in the Made in Denmark Challenge at Himmerland.