McDowell leads after 64 in Korea

By Brian Keogh

Graeme McDowell capitalised on a putting tip from Thomas Bjorn to card an amazing eight-under par 64 and scorch two shots clear at the weather-delayed Ballantine's Championship in South Korea.

The Ulsterman, 28, coped brilliantly with gusty conditions to rip up Pinx GC on Jeju Island and boost his chances of ending a four-year victory drought.

Dubliners Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington are just three and four shots behind McDowell after rounds of 67 and 65 on a day when more than two hours play were lost due to high winds.

Needing a top-three finish to make next week's CA-Chamionship in Miami, McDowell birdied four of the first six holes, eagled the 10th and then birdied the 12th and 18th in fading light to get to 12-under par.

A total of 47 players were unable to finish their rounds in fading light, McDowell among those who had to rush to get through the 18 holes.

"The sun was dropping pretty quickly," McDowell said. "It was pretty dark out there at the end. It's a massive help to get a little bit of a lie-in tomorrow."

McGinley holed a series of long putts in a bogey free 67 to set the clubhouse target of nine-under par in the worst of the early conditions.

"The wind made me feel like Tiger Woods," McGInley said. "I still hit the ball a hell of a lot further than I used to but there's only so much I can do - I'm five foot seven and have Irish genes."

It wasn't power but finesse that held the key to McDowell's success.

The Portrush man rediscovered his touch on the greens thanks to a midweek tip from playing partner Bjorn, who opened with seven successive 3s in a 66 that was good enough to move him into a share of sixth with Harrington and American ace Anthony Kim on eight under.

Thankful for Bjorn's help, McDowell revealed: "We've been helping each other out a little bit in and around the greens this week.

"We've been practising a little bit together and he gave me a little bit of a bunker-play lesson yesterday and gave me a couple of tips on my putting on Tuesday on a slight adjustment on my set up.

"I’m excited about the weekend now. I am striving for consistency this year and trying to give myself as many chances as possible to play at the business end of tournaments. I think this is the fifth time out of seven that I have given myself a chance at the weekend so that all I can ask for.

"Shooting 64 today was very pleasant and I feel happy with what I am doing – I feel I am putting well enough to really have a chance to win this tournament."

Bjorn also made a blistering start, carding seven threes in a row in a front nine of 30 before the run was halted with a bogey five on the eighth.

Three further birdies and two bogeys followed as Bjorn moved to eight under par alongside Kim and Harrington, who was in the last group to finish as darkness descended at 7pm local time.

Harrington is still rusty after playing just four tournaments this year but was still relieved to finish his second round and avoid a 4.45 am wake up call.

"It made a big difference to get those last couple of holes played," said Harrington, who have seen birdies in an immaculate 65.

"It was nice to get teed off on 18 and know you were definitely getting finished. On the 18th green when we were putting, I think we were all putting somewhat from memory.

"Eight under par, 36 holes to go - I'm well in there."

While Harrington is building up for the Masters in three weeks' time, McGinley is looking for a decent finish and some Ryder Cup points after a run of two missed cuts in a row.

The putter has been McGinley's downfall so far this year but he holed putts from everywhere yesterday to take advantage of another imperious display from tee to green.

India's Jeev Milkha Singh, playing alongside Harrington, carded 66 and Sweden's Johan Edfors, who also finished late on, signed for a 65 to go joint second at 10 under.

"We got very lucky with the weather this afternoon," said McDowell. "It was blowing 30mph when we teed off, so much so that I drove it on to the first green.

"Then we stood on the third tee and the wind just dropped and we probably had the best of the day in the end."

Bjorn was six under par after seven holes but bogeyed the eighth and birdies the ninth to turn in 30 before coming home in level par with two birdies and two bogeys.

"It's one of those days," said Bjorn. "We enjoy each other's company, and when things are going well, you feed off each other and all of the sudden the golf course is not difficult.

"Graeme played awesomely today. It's easy when you play with someone who gets off to a start like that. He played a solid round of golf and got the rewards."

Damien McGrane fired a 69 to share 20th place on four under but Rory McIlroy (71) and Gary Murphy (72) comfortably missed the projected level par cut on three and four over respectively.