Graeme McDowell hit back from arrears of two holes after three to beat Sweden’s Robert Karlsson in the first round of the Volvo Match Play Championship here at Finca Cortesin on Spain’s Costa del Sol yesterday.
The 2010 US Open champion from Portrush is now in the ideal position to qualify for the matchplay stages of the €2.75m event. His next match is against the little-known J Be Kruger this afternoon with two players from each group set to qualify for the knock-out stages.
Darren Clarke, the other Irishman in the field, didn’t play yesterday but today will be in action against both Justin Rose and Robert Rock, a pair of Englishmen who went head to head yesterday in a totally one-sided affair that ended in favour of the former at the 12th. There was little Rock could do about it as Rose opened with five consecutive birdies and picked up two more before the premature finish.
The story of the day, however, concerned the American Brandt Snedeker. His clubs went missing on the way from the States and so he picked up a few as similar as possible from the pro shop along with a putter which set him back $US100. He also borrowed a driver from Australian John Senden and liked it so much he threatened never to return it! Even though he had only 10 clubs in the bag, he stormed into an early lead against Thomas Bjorn and won 5 and 4.
The McDowell-Karlsson match was a classic match play duel. The 6 ft 5 inch Swede enjoyed a definite edge off the tee, outdriving McDowell by 50 yards on occasions, and so it was ironic then the issue should be decided in the Irishman’s favour by a superbly played birdie at the long 18th.
Difficulty in coping with the speed of the greens led to McDowell losing the second and third holes and he was struggling to get back into the match until striking a golden patch with a hat-trick of winning birdies from the ninth. He rolled in a nine footer for his first birdie of the day to turn one down, holed from 18 feet for a two at the 10th and then hit a majestic three wood on to the green at the 11th to go in front for the first time.
However, Karlsson birdied the 14th to square the match and regained the lead at the testing 15th where McDowell bunkered his approach. Now one down with three to play, G-Mac birdied the 16th from 10 feet, snatched a half in par at the short 17th. despite a plugged lie in a bunker after a poor six iron tee shot, and finished in style with another great birdie four at the 18th.
“I’ve always believed in my ability as a match player and it’s nice to grind one outlike that”, McDowell enthused. “It focuses my attention. I played the par fives unbelievably well. I’m not a guy who has the 275 yard three wood in the bag but I hit one of 306 yards at the 11th and at the last, pitched it 275 yards — not like me. I was feeling a little dejected as I walked off the tee thinking he was going to comfortably get there in two and I was going to struggle to do so.”
Instead, McDowell knocked his second shot 18 feet past the pin, transferring the pressure to Karlsson who sent a three iron left into a green side bunker, came out to five feet and missed the putt to lose somewhat unluckily a fine match.
McDowell’s confidence is clearly returning after some recent disappointing performances and there will be some battle before the destination of the €700, 000 first prize is decided on Sunday.
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