Padraig Harrington hasn’t worked with him long enough to feel the benefit but Graeme McDowell can vouch for Pete Cowen’s credentials as the best “fixer” in the game after snatching the halfway lead in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
The world No 14 was unhappy with his opening 70 at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City but armed with a tip from Cowen, the Ulsterman fired a five under par 67 to head the 12-man field by stroke on seven under par at halfway. Scores
McDowell did it in unusual fashion when he had a bizarre “fresh air” that led to a double bogey seven on the 14th but bounced back with birdies at two of the last three holes to edge ahead of world number three Lee Westwood (70), fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer (68), American Jason Dufner (68) and Swede Robert Karlsson (69).
“That’s exactly what I wanted,” said McDowell, who drove the ball poorly in the first round but is now in with a chance of claiming his first win since last year’s Chevron World Challenge and a cheque for $1.25m (€930,000).
“It’s a pretty bunched leaderboard, which says a lot about how tough the course is when you start leaving the beaten track. I’m very happy to finish with a couple of birdies after a bit of a whoopsie on the par five.
“I spoke to my coach Pete Cowen who told me to tighten up my backswing a bit and I felt like I controlled my ball a bit better today, so thanks Pete.”
After picking up a shot on the first, 32-year old McDowell birdied the ninth, 10th, 11th and 13th to storm ahead before taking a seven at the 14th after driving into a bush.
“It was a very calm and quiet front nine and an exciting back nine,” said McDowell, who holed a couple of 20 footers for birdies at the 16th and 18th. “I tugged my drive on 14, I was kind of trying to steer it down there but pulled it into the bush.
“Then I made contact about an inch behind the ball, hit the rock and my club just bounced right over the top. It was interesting because my caddie called it before I hit the shot, he said, ‘Be careful your club does not bounce off that rock’.”
Darren Clarke climbed off the foot of the leaderboard and lies 11th in the 12-man field on one-under after a second round 69.
Francesco Molinari is last on five over after a second round 77 but had the comfort of knowing that the man finishing 12th in the elite event will bank $250,000.