McDowell turns the page with sub-par opener

Graeme McDowell splashes out on the opening day of the US Open at Congressional Country Club. www.golffile.ieGraeme McDowell made a super start to his US Open defence but confessed that golf was put in perspective as he saw a spectator fight for his life.

The Ulsterman was delighted to fire a one under 70 that left him just two shots behind clubhouse leader YE Yang of South Korea.

But he also took time out to spare a thought for a fan who suffered a heart-attack as he was playing the tough, uphill 11th.

Paramedics worked frantically to revive a 30 year old man and McDowell had to put the horrific scene out of his mind as he followed two birdies and a bogey in his first six holes with 12 straight pars to finish.

“Someone obviously were having some problems over there and that puts things in perspective for you,” said G-Mac, who finished the day five shots behind pal Rory McIlroy.

“You’re out there trying to do your best, but it certainly puts golf in perspective when you see someone obviously fighting for their life.

“All the people that USGA has in place this week for events like that, it’s great to see the paramedics reacting and doing the job they’re here to do. We obviously hope that person is doing okay right now.”

Bidding to become the first player to successfully defend the title since Curtis Strange in 1989, McDowell felt he put his momentuous year behind him last Sunday night.

After opening with a 70 for the second year in a row, he said: “The weight was off my shoulders Monday morning. Something happened when I was here on Sunday night. And I felt great on the golf course Monday. And I felt good out there today.

“I felt really, really good this morning.  I felt normal.  It felt like a regular Major Championship.  It didn’t feel like I was defending anything.  And I just went out there.  I set myself some challenges this morning to go out and try to think well, try to go through my processes correctly, through my routines, and just be patient and enjoy the round.  And I really accomplished those things.”

Graeme McDowell (NIR) teeing off on the 1st tee.on day one of the USGA at Congressional country club, Bethesda, Washington, 16/6/11.Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieWith a light raining misting the course from 7 am, the course was set up for low scoring but McDowell didn’t feel he had failed to take advantage.

He said: “I don’t think you ever feel that way at a US Open that you’ve got to go out and make a score. You just try to take each hole as it comes.

“The golf course changed dramatically as the round went on. The wind got up on the back nine there and holes like 15 and 16 played different than what we saw in practice.

“You had to adapt your game plan a little bit. But I kept it in play well today. I played smart golf. My iron play could have been better, but all in all, I was very, very happy with most departments today.”

The Portrush star got an early wake up call when he bogeyed the par-four first after two visits to sand.

But he birdied the 217-yard second after a searing rescue club to six feet and settled down for the rest of the day.

A birdie at the par-five sixth, where he was talked out of going for the green in two by his caddie, saw him move onto the leaderboard at one under.

And he stayed there for the rest of his round as he finished with 12 pars in a row thanks to some excellent par saves.

Graeme McDowell (NIR) playing his second shot from the bunker on the first on day one of the USGA at Congressional country club, Bethesda, Washington, 16/6/11.Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieThe pick of them came at the 199-yard 10th, his opening hole, where he almost holed his recovery after seeing his tee shot trickle into the back bunker.

Never a fan of that hole, McDowell said: “I think 10 is maybe the only slightly unfair hole, here, at Congressional. You know, it’s a tough number for me, especially today.

“Five iron was barely beating front edge. I had to sizzle a five there and four was kind of too much for me today. It was a tough number for me.

“I felt for the guys having to play that was their first hole early on, maybe in a little bit of rain. That would have been a tough way to start a US Open.”

McDowell was playing with Open champion Louis Oosthuizen who finished with a two under 69 to finish a shot behind clubhouse leader Yang.

But while McDowell was just a shot behind the South African, they got even closer when their lay-ups at the 636-yard in finished touching one another.

McDowell said: “We laid them up from about 220 yards and the two balls were touching in the fairway, which I’ve never seen on the golf course before. It was pretty incredible.

“Louis had to go first, and thankful he didn’t remove a huge piece of turf, I didn’t know what I was going to do to recreate my lie if he had taken a huge divot. He picked it off the turf quite cleanly and I was thankful for that.”

Yang birdied all four par-threes as he fired a three under 68 to lead by a shot from Oosthuizen and American Ryan Palmer with McDowell’s 70 leaving him alongside US Ryder Cup skipper Davis Love III Chez Reavie, Stewart Cink and Swedish pair Henrik Stenson and Johan Edfors.

But it was a day to forget for the world No’s 1, 2 and 3 as Luke Donald shot 74, Lee Westwood a 75 and Martin Kaymer a three over 74.

Yang has missed the cut in his previous two US Opens and never broke 73 in four rounds.

He said: “The last few US Opens that I attended, I was over par, so I’m very satisfied right now. The weather helped out because it rained this morning. The greens got softer.”