Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell fail to sparkle in California

Australian Open champion opens with 73, a disappointing one-over par

Tiger Woods plays out of the sand on the third hole in the World Challenge tournament in California. Pjotograph:  Getty Images

Tiger Woods plays out of the sand on the third hole in the World Challenge tournament in California. Pjotograph: Getty Images



Old comrades in arms, Rory McIlroy – seeking to maintain the momentum of his Australian Open win on Sunday – and Graeme McDowell, the defending champion, didn’t quite manage to find the spark to ignite their opening rounds of the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in California

In an event which signals an end to a long season, a ground frost forced a one-hour delay before the two Northern Irishmen, playing together in the opening pairing, got up and running in their respective quests at the tournament hosted by world number one Tiger Woods.

McIlroy opened with a 73, one-over par, having suffered his fourth bogey of the round on the par-three 15th where he put his seven-iron tee-shot into the water hazard and drained a long bogey putt to limit the damage. Against that, he managed to pick up three birdies – on the second, fifth and 10th – as he grinded his way around the course. McIlroy, in fact, was forced to show that resilience when holing out from 12 feet for a saving par on the 18th.

McDowell, who has previous good form around the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, having won in 2010 (the year he claimed his breakthrough Major in the US Open) and again last year when he beat Woods in a play-off, failed to find consistency in a round that featured four birdies and four bogeys in singing for a level-par 72.

Flying start
The Ulsterman actually got off to a flying start with birdies on his opening two holes and bounced back from a bogey on the fourth with another birdie on the fifth. However, he only turned in one under after suffering another bogey on the eighth. McDowell got back to two under and into a share of the lead at that point with his fourth birdie of the round on the 11th only to drop shots on the 12th and 14th.

McDowell owes a lot to Sherwood, playing host to the tournament for the last time before it moves on to new pastures in Isleworth in Florida next year. It was in Sherwood back in 2009 that he benefited from a late invitation from Woods and secured a runner-up finish that moved him into the world’s top 50 and earned him a spot in the following year’s US Masters.

Unfortunately for McDowell, he failed to maintain his fast birdie-birdie start and, instead, former Masters champion Zach Johnson was the one who set the early pace with a scintillating run on his back nine home that saw him claim four birdies in five holes from the 10th (with birdies on the 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th) as he made a strong opening gambit.

Johnson managed to claim seven birdies – and just one bogey – through 17 holes as he overcame cool conditions and difficult greens.

Johnson was six-under par through 17 holes, two shots clear of Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson. Woods, meanwhile, had a quiet opening and recorded just one birdie and one bogey through 10 holes before finally dipping under par with a birdie on the 11th.