Graeme McDowell plots his own course to excellent opening 70 at US PGA

‘What I like about it is no one can play the course in the rough’

Graeme McDowell plays his  approach on the second hole during the first round of the US PGA Championship at  Bethpage Black  in Farmingdale, New York. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell plays his approach on the second hole during the first round of the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

Graeme McDowell knew he was never going to outmuscle the beast that is Bethpage Black; but the 39-year-old Northern Irishman demonstrated there is more than one way to skin a cat, plotting a route around the massive course to sign for an opening-round 70, level par, in the US PGA Championship, an opening salvo which left a look on contentment across his bearded face.

Although Brooks Koepka, the defending champion, used his physical strength to overpower the course with a stunning seven-under-par 63 that opened up a four-stroke lead over England’s Tommy Fleetwood among the early finishers, McDowell was more than satisfied with his own day’s work.

“I really, really hung in there well on the back nine,” remarked McDowell – a winner in the Dominican Republic at the end of March – of using every ounce of his experience to fashion a score.

“I just have to continue hitting a lot of fairways this weekend to have a chance to play this golf course. But what I like about it is no one can play the course in the rough. It doesn’t matter if you’re Dustin [Johnson], Justin [Rose] or Brooks Koepka, even he can’t get on the greens from the rough!”

McDowell had travelled to Bethpage with a little apprehension, afraid that his mid-range hitting would leave him at a huge disadvantage against the so-called bombers. With a set-up closer to that of a typical US Open rather than a typical PGA Tour event, though, McDowell figured he would find a way to compete.

“The guy who wins this week, he’ll be top 10 in total driving. Without a doubt. Unless you’re up there in total driving this week, you’re not going to have a chance to compete, simple. And I can only imagine that Brooks is driving the ball extremely well to be doing what he’s doing.”

McDowell factored three birdies and three bogeys, the last of them on the 18th, in his 70, with his latest career win in the Caribbean allowing him to freewheel. “It’s been a hundred-pound gorilla on my back the last three years, kind of needing it, wanting it, fighting for my card. So to get that kind of off my back and be able to start playing the kind of golf that I enjoy playing again [is nice],” said McDowell.

For Shane Lowry, there was very little to enjoy. The Offalyman started strongly and, having negotiated a tough opening stretch starting on the 10th, he was one under through four holes only to endure a torrid time thereafter which included two three-putts. In all, he had seven bogeys and two birdies in a round of 75 with the misery further extended by him being selected for a post-round drugs test.

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