Graeme McDowell will need one of the lowest final rounds of his career today if he is to end his two-year victory drought and make a significant move in the race to retain his Ryder Cup place.

The 30-year old from Portrush, who is more than €400,000 outside the nine automatic places in Colin Montgomerie’s European team, posted a frustrating two-under par 70 on moving day in the Madrid Masters to go into the final round six shots behind leaders Luke Donald and Rhys Davies on 10 under par.

Just four behind former Walker Cup team mate Donald going out, McDowell failed to close the gap despite three birdies in his first ten holes and his title challenge suffered a major blow when a poor drive led to a double bogey six at the 11th.

Happy to birdie the last to sit alone in eighth place, McDowell said: “My iron play wasn’t as good as it’s been over the first couple of days and the greens firmed up a lot overnight, which took a while to adjust to. It was like a different golf course with five yards more release on the greens.”

McDowell parred his first five holes and while he made a pitch and putt birdie at the driveable sixth, hole an 18 footer at the seventh and picked up another shot at the par-five 10th, he failed to make any in-roads in Donald’s four stroke overnight lead.

He said: “I didn’t get off to the start I wanted and couldn’t get any momentum going. I’ve been struggling with the three wood and losing it right but then I stood up on 11 and tugged it left and then hit an Audemars Piguet advertising board with my second.

“Ironically one of my own sponsors, which stopped it getting up close to the green. I hit my pitch the way I wanted but it released over the back and hit a poor chip and missed the putt and ended up walking off with a double out of nowhere. 

“I battled well coming home and had chances but holed nothing so it was nice to birdie the last. But I need to shoot seven, eight or nine under par tomorrow.

“It’s very possible but the guys ahead of me are playing well. Every time I looked back they seemed to be stiffing it. But I’m not downbeat at all. I played a lot of good stuff but maybe I am trying too hard off the tee at times and the rough is penal round here.”  

World No 13 Donald – who is looking for his first official win for four years – shot a 68 as playing partner Davies birdied the 16th and 17th for a 67 to join him in a share of the lead on 16 under.

The British duo are two shots clear of Italy’s Francesco Molinari (65) with big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros just three behind after a 64 that featured birdies at the 16th and 17th and an eagle two at the 18th, where he holed his second shot from 58 yards.

Peter Lawrie was left to regret three dropped shots in his first two holes as he fired eight birdies in a four under par 68 that left him tied for 11th on eight under.

“I suppose I am happy enough but it was a shame about the start,” Lawrie said. “To shoot 68 after that start was a pretty decent day but I am a little disappointed too.

“With a couple of pars to start it might have been the kind of low score I was looking for to put myself right up there.”

Having shot himself out of the tournament with a 74 on Friday, Damien McGrane made a move yesterday as he matched Lawrie’s eight birdies and posted a 67 to share 17th on seven under.

The Kells man feels he is close to finding his best form in time for the most lucrative part of the season after struggling to get used to the new grooves earlier in the year.

He said: “I am hitting a lot of good shots and doing a lot of the right things but it might not be reflected in my scorecard right now. 

“I made eight birdies, which is what you have to do on a course like this, where good shots are rewarded with birdie chances.”

Paul McGinley and Shane Lowry posted two under par 70s to finish on six under and three under respectively.

Donald felt he did not play as well as he had on the first two days and he knows that the title race is wide open with a host of players withing striking distance.

Donald said: “It wasn’t my best golf. I played the front nine a little bit better. It’s always good not to make bogeys, but it would have been nice to get a couple more birdies.

“It’s good to come out here and be in contention again this week, it proves that I have a good attitude. We have a few people very close to us, and I will not change my game plan tomorrow.”