Graeme McDowell was happy to be a party pooper when he birdied the last to clinch a third-round date with Tiger Woods in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral’s TPC Blue Monster.
The Irish ace carded a rock solid 67 to grab the clubhouse lead on 11 under par and deny Phil Mickelson a date with the impressive Woods.
Rory McIlroy showed signs of improvement in his game but still struggled to keep pace with playing partner Woods, who raced to 12 under midway through the back nine.
But former US Open champion McDowell was the only player in the 65-man field yet to card a bogey.
And he was licking his lips at the prospect of a Saturday showdown with Woods, who made seven birdies in the first 13 holes of his second round before a bogey at the 14th saw his lead over McDowell cut to one.
McDowell said: “I saw Phil sneaking up the leaderboard behind me and I said to my caddie Kenny, let’s spoil this party tomorrow.”
Mickelson needed to shoot a 66 to seal a final round pairing with Woods but while he also birdied the last, a 67 left him tied for third with Steve Stricker on 10 under.
McDowell added: “I am sure they would have liked Tiger and Phil in the last group tomorrow but I will certainly enjoy being in the last group and in the mix.
“It’s great to see the best players in the game and it’s always exciting to have Tiger and Phil playing well because it brings the crowds and puts people in front of their TV screens.”
The Irishman began the day tied for the lead with Woods, Freddie Jacobson, Sergio Garcia and Masters winner Bubba Watson on six under thanks to an immaculate 66 on the opening day.
And he continued to play solid golf on another warm day in Miami, closing with his fifth birdie of the day from just three feet at the 160-yard ninth to lead set the pace
Starting on the 10th, the Irishman parred first seven holes before finally holing a five-footer for birdie at the 17th to top the leaderboard on seven under.
He then got up and down from greenside sand at the par-five first, holing a 12 footer to remain near the head of affairs and live up to his ‘big brother’ role to the rusty McIlroy.
“The big brother/little brother kind of relationship ceases to be when little brother starts beating up on big brother quite often,” McDowell said.
But so far this week it’s been the 33-year old Portrush man who has played like a Major winner.
The 2010 US Open winner has worked hard on his short game over the winter months with special emphasis on his bunker play and putting.
And it appears to be playing off at a venue where his best finish is a share of sixth place behind Ernie Els in 2010.
McIlroy gave up the pre-shot rehearsal of his backswing that marked his opening 73 and while he followed a birdie at the par-five first with bogeys at the fourth and sixth, he picked up birdies at the par-five eighth, 10th and 12th and another from six feet at the 14th to move up to 33rd.
Pádraig Harrington was level par for his round playing the last and set to remain near the back of the field on four over par.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved