McDowell reels off the birdies in hot 63 but Woods even hotter at Bay Hill

Sat, Mar 24, 2012, 00:00

GOLF:GRAEME McDOWELL shot 63, but Tiger Woods then became the man to catch in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill last night.

After McDowell had joined Jason Dufner on nine under par by equalling his lowest-ever round in America, Woods seized the clubhouse lead one in front of them on 10 under par by adding a 65 to his opening 69.

Winner of the title six times, the former world number one goes looking for his first PGA Tour victory for over two and a half years this weekend – and this only a fortnight after he pulled out of the Cadillac Championship with an ankle injury.

Woods was six behind when he teed off, but had four successive birdies from the fourth to turn in 32. Lucky to avoid driving out of bounds on the 10th, his ball hitting the fence, he saved par there and added a fifth birdie from 10 feet on the long 12th, two-putted the 511-yard 16th for another and then holed from 15 feet on the next.

Woods had done what he set out to do. And so had McDowell, who continued an amazing month for European golfers in Florida with his round.

The Ulster man has seen compatriot Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Luke Donald win the last three PGA Tour events and he now has a chance to make it an unprecedented four in a row.

McDowell, with fond memories of the event after finishing second back in 2005, had birdies at the fourth and fifth, then holed from 27 feet at the short seventh and 32 feet on the next.

A 98-yard pitch to four feet at the 10th took the 2010 US Open champion to five under for the day and two holes later, after driving into a bunker, he hit his third shot to five feet to set up his sixth birdie.

The best was still to come, though. A 215-yard approach to seven feet on the 16th brought an eagle and he rounded off an inward 31 with a 10-foot birdie putt at the last.

“I got off to quite a slow start actually with the putter and then kind of got going a little bit,” said McDowell. “Shooting 63 on a golf course like this is always a lot of fun and this is always an event that I like to put in my schedule. Mr Palmer is our host and it always has that special feel to it.

“I’m playing the next three weeks now and I’m mentally and physically fresher than I’ve been for a long time. It’s nice to be kind of back under the radar I suppose a little bit.

“This time last year I was certainly in the limelight and that takes a little bit of getting used to for a guy who has never really had to do that before.

“You have to get back into the state of mind I was in in 2010. I wish you could bottle up the way you feel when golf is easy because when golf is difficult, it’s very difficult.

“I guess I learned a lot of lessons from my 2011 season. I felt like I did a lot of growing up and I went through a process where I acclimatised to being one of the best players in the world and it was a difficult process.”

It was an excellent round from Woods. “I putted well,” he said last night. “I didn’t feel I hit it all that great, but the good thing is my misses are better and I played smart.”

On the Achilles strain he experienced in Miami he added: “I’ve been getting treatment and everything is moving properly. No swelling, so everything is good.”

Justin Rose matched Woods’s four birdies in a row, but followed them with back-to-back bogeys and signed for another 69 and will resume on six under, one in front of Sergio Garcia.