Graeme McDowell shrugged off his US Open hangover to keep Rory McIlroy in his sights - but only just.

The Pebble Beach hero dug deep to birdie the 18th for a one under 71 in tough afternoon conditions.

Pleased not to blow his chances of back-to-back major wins after McIlroy’s “intimidating” 63, he immediately set his sights on chasing down his Ulster pal in the race for the Claret Jug.

McDowell said: “It was certainly a day of two halves. I was watching putts going in from everywhere over breakfast and watching guys shooting five, six, seven, eight, nine under par.

“It was a tough afternoon and I putted awful for about 12 holes. Then I really tried hard coming in, hit some good shots and gave myself chances.

“I certainly haven’t blown myself out of the tournament. It is always intimidating going out there nine shots behind the leader on a tricky day like that but I stayed pretty patient and tried not to get to frustrated and managed to hang in there.”

McDowell knows that his US Open win has inspired McIlroy to set his sights on Open glory this week.

And while he was pleased to see his friend equal the lowest round in major championship history, he’s not going to give up his quest for major number two.

He said: “Rory Mcilroy is an extremely talented player - one of the most talented players I have ever seen - and it doesn’t surprise me that he is top of the leaderboard right now.

“He told me  after Pebble that he readjusted his preparations by pulling out of Loch Lomond to come here early and get ready and he is an experienced kid and he can handle it.

“He loves this golf course its sets up so well for him he can hit the right to left bomb off the tee all day long and I fully expect him to  contending on Sunday afternoon the way he is playing.

“But I certainly have not played myself out of it. It was a tricky day and it was nice to get a couple of birdies coming in to get me into the red I have got to go out tomorrow morning and get myself to four or six under par.”

McDowell bogeyed the first, birdied the third but then bogeyed the seventh to turn for home 10 shots off the lead

And he confessed that while it’s been nearly a month since he won his first major title, it’s been tough to prepare for the Open.

He said: “Physically I am well rested but the tough part getting my head screwed back on. I must have 50 people - players, caddies and spectators - reminding me about the US Open every day.

“It’s very tough to be as focused as I normally am because obviously everyone is taking me out of my bubble.

“Would I change that? Of course I wouldn’t. It’s something I am terribly proud of. I am trying my best to remain as focussed as I can and concentrate on my game this week, but it was always going to be difficult.”