GRAEME McDowell was quick to stress that there’s a long way to go in the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.
But he also acknowledged that yesterday’s blemish free three under par 68 in the opening round of the €3million tournament has put him in a strong position towards bridging the near million point gap between himself and current leader Martin Kaymer on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai order of merit.
McDowell ended the day four strokes clear of the German although late in the day he was eventually overtaken by the Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, who cruised around in 66. McDowell is tied for 2nd with fellow Irishman Damien McGrane who completed a fine day’s work with a birdie on the 18th in another round that didn’t contain a concession to par.
McDowell was more than pleased with the quality of his ball striking and, in truth, he could have been even more favourably placed had he met with better fortune on Valderrama’s tricky putting surfaces. He got off to the perfect start when hitting a nine iron to fifteen feet at the 1st and holed for a three.
He laid up at the dangerous par five 4th before pitching to eight feet and again finding the target.
A spate of pars followed until the 18th where McDowell held the fairway with a three wood from the tee and knocked a superb seven iron again to about five feet. This time, the putt dropped, leaving him perfectly positioned at this stage of the tournament.
“This is a tough golf course and hard work and you have to realise that at some point you are going to hit it out of position and you are going to have to scramble”, said McDowell. “I kept the ball under control for most of the day and scrambled when I had to. The back nine was pretty good, I positioned the ball well off the tee and hit some good iron shots and the 18th was a prime example. You hit the perfect tee shot and yet are still five yards from being stymied behind a tree.”
As Ryder Cup teammates and Europe’s two current major champions, it is inevitable that McDowell and Kaymer are spending much of 2010 in each other’s company.
They are paired for the first two rounds this week and it will be much of the same in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai over the remaining weeks of the campaign.
“Martin’s the guy I’m trying to catch in the Race to Dubai and he’s having a magnificent season and especially in the last few months when he’s been unbeatable,” said McDowell. “It’s great to play alongside him because you always want to play with the best. He’s a top, top player and it’s great for the European Tour to have guys like him winning golf tournaments.”
McDowell regards Valderrama as “one of the toughest par tests in Europe and it was particularly pleasing to go round out there without a bogey. It was three under par and it could have been better but I’ll take it here any time.
“Being four ahead of Martin doesn’t mean a whole lot because it’s early days yet. It’s a marathon this week-end because this golf course can beat you up. We’ll all hit it out of position at some stage and you’ve just got to try and keep your head screwed on.”
Kaymer insisted again yesterday that his focus remains firmly on the order of merit and that he isn’t thinking about displacing Tiger Woods as the world number one should he win or finish 2nd here on Sunday night. He was more or less keeping step with McDowell until running into trouble at the 11th, 12th and 13th, all of which he bogeyed, so he did well to finish on one over.
“Nobody likes taking three bogeys in succession and they came as something of a shock”, admitted the German. “Suddenly I was two over and from there it was a case of hanging in and one over is not the end of the world. I got one of those shots back at the 16th, where my second shot pitched right beside the hole but my drive to the 17th caught the rough and it was too much of a risk to go for the green.”
Alvaro Quiros, born and raised just down the road from Valderrama, was the third member of the McDowell-Kaymer group and disappointed the local fans as he soared to a 77. But another Andalucian, Ryder Cup hero Miguel-Angel Jimenez completed a very useful 70, one under, and the same mark as Sergio Garcia, a man in desperate need of a good result before the season ends. Jose-Maria Olazabal is another Spaniard in the current spotlight given his deliberations over whether or not to accept the Ryder Cup captaincy in 2012. He shot a two over par 73.
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