McDowell hops ahead

By Brian Keogh

Graeme McDowell summed up a soggy day at the K Club when he saw a frog on his line on the ninth green.

The Ulsterman was a tad amused as he lined up a 20 footer for birdie on his final hole on his way to a one-under par 69.

Playing with Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, McDowell joked: "The frog looked like he was having more fun than we were.

"Obviously I was playing with a frog as well. So Raphael appreciated it. He said to me, 'Two frogs on the green.' It was pretty interesting."

The amphibian eventually hopped off into the rough and McDowell two-putted for a one-under par opening effort that left him well in the hunt.

And the Portrush man paid tribute to the huge crowds for turning up in horrendous under-foot conditions to support the players and the event.

McDowell said: "I couldn't believe the size of the crowds. It was quiet early doors but they all started appearing and I was so impressed with the turnout and with the free ticket initiative that Ulster Bank is doing.

"It is tough to keep going out there but it is great to have the crowds egging us on.

"The people are doing their part and trying to boost the tournament. We need that I think.

"We have had a terrible few years now with weather in Ireland. It feels like we have been jinxed and if it wasn't for the crowds that we have in Ireland and the golf courses and quality of golf coming out I don't know what we would do.”

McDowell did not drive or putt as well as he knows he can - missing nearly half the fairways and taking 30 putts on he pristine greens.

Patience proved to be the key to his round as he came back from one over par with seven to play with two late birdies.

He explained: "The greens are fantastic - they are probably the best we have putted on all year.

"Considering the way the rest of the golf course looks that is pretty phenomenal.

"If you miss a fairway you are absolutely dead, simple as that. You don't get the benefit of lift clean and place. The rough is cut up, it is wet, it is nasty.

"You have got to be patient in these conditions and keep the ball in play. Try not to get too aggressive. The fairway is key out there."

After a birdie at the par five 10th, he drove into the rough at the 14th to drop his first shot of the day.

But he bounced back with a birdie at the 18th, which was reduced from a 578 yard par-five to a 162 yard par-three because the fairway was unplayable in the landing area.

After taking a 10 on the hole in 2004 and a triple bogey eight last year, the Ulsterman was delighted to rifle a seven-iron to six feet and set up a rare birdie.

He beamed: "I love it now. I've had a 10 there and an eight last year. So I took six less shots than the last time I played the 18th.”

A missed fairway at the first and a missed green at the par three second left him on one over par.

But he pitched and putted for birdies at the par-five third and seventh holes before parring his way home.

He said: "I made a couple of good up and downs at the 16th and 17th to keep my round going and most facets of my game were in pretty good shape this morning. But I didn't really get to grips with the greens all that well.

"I didn't make a whole bunch of putts this morning. But I said to myself after about nine holes that if I get it into the red today I will be happy. One under par will do and there is room for improvement tomorrow."