G-Mac: I've been playing with a gun pointed to my head
Jaco Van Zyl. Picture: Getty Images

Jaco Van Zyl. Picture: Getty Images

Graeme McDowell shot his best round of the year and Shane Lowry “got away with” one of his worst in the Turkish Airlines Open.

The bad news for both is that Rory McIlroy hasn’t even slipped into second gear yet and still heads both of them at halfway stage in the $7m Final Series opener at a defenceless Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club.

World No 3 McIlroy goes into the third round tied for sixth on 10 under par following a second successive, five under par 67 that featured an impressive par save at the 18th for the second day running.

The four-time major winner and Race to Dubai leader is just four strokes adrift of South African Jaco Van Zyl, who followed his 61 with a 69 to lead by two from Englishmen Richard Bland (65) and Chris Wood (66) on 14 under.

McDowell is just one stroke behind McIlroy and five off the lead after a bogey-free 65 which matched his season’s best in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic, scene of his only Top 10 finish of a forgettable 2015 season nearly nine months ago.

“I am really trying to look at the big picture at the minute,” McDowell said when asked about his fall from 15th to 80th in the world this year and the battle he faces to qualify for the the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral, the Masters or even the Ryder Cup team next year.

“I am not out there, as I was for most of the year, feeling like I had a gun pointed to my head and it was me pointing the gun. 

“I put myself under far too much pressure going into the summer because i hadn’t played well and I am not the type of guy who reacts well to that.”

Rather than worrying about extending his run in this year’s Race to Dubai, McDowell is laying the foundations for a successful 2016.

“I am really looking at next year, trying to build my confidence and working on my technique and feeling much better all round,” he said. “I am the kind of guy who needs to be out there very relaxed and very openminded and very big picture orientated, and I think I have got a little too focused on the bad stuff this year and got a little too frustrated playing golf like I needed it too badly, so I am feeling very relaxed on the golf course, enjoying what I am doing and really looking into next season.  

"I am not focusing on this week. I am really looking at next year, trying to build my confidence and working on my technique and feeling much better all round. Whatever happens this week is whatever, really.
"The Top 50 will take care of itself as will the Ryder Cup. I am very motivated to be on the Ryder Cup team next year and I always enjoy having that natural finish line if you like in this 12 month period. Regardless of whether I am in the top 50 in the world come Jan 1, I have got plenty of golf to play between now and the Masters, you know. Doral and the Matchplay will be the two question marks, Augusta is not going to affect my world too much.

"I love Augusta and I want to be there but it is really a happy place for me scoring wise. I have got plenty of golf to play, I am trying to stay very patient and to keep building this process and results will come."

If McDowell is trying to take pressure off himself, McIlroy appears to live a pressure free existence when the majors are done and dusted for the year.

Ten strokes behind Van Zyl at one stage, he was asked if he was playing well within himself and said: “Yeah, very. I feel like this is as stress-free a pair of 67s as I've shot this year.”

The bad news for Van Zyl, Bland (who came home in 28), Wood or fourth placed Victor Dubuisson (64) or Fabrizio Zanotti (66) is that McIlroy hasn’t stamped on the accelerator yet.

“I feel like there is [more under the bonnet],” McIlroy said. “I’ve made a couple of good putts to save pars over the past couple of days. But for the most part I'm giving myself chances on most greens.

“I think I have left a few out there. So I definitely feel like there's a lot more to come. I feel like I can hit the ball a little better. I can definitely get my wedges closer, and if I get my wedges closer, I'll give myself putts for birdies.”

Cue a collective gulp from everyone in the field, including Lowry, who was almost doing cartwheels after escaping with a two under 70 that felt like an 80 so much did he struggle alongside McIlroy’s ball-striking brilliance.

Tied for 19th, eight off the lead on six under, Lowry said: “Did I get away with it? Definitely. I didn’t play great.

“That’s golf. It’s a funny game sometimes. It’s felt easy for me the last while and today it felt a little bit harder. I suppose when you play like that and get away with two under, you are doing something right.”

As for McIlroy, he said: “There is no doubt about it, it was getting a bit annoying that he was getting away from me today. I didn’t feel like I was playing well and he was taking the flags out. That’s not easy. 

“But that happens every week. No matter who you are playing with on Thursday or Friday, you don’t want to be beaten by them. 

“I am happy I got out of jail today with two under. And I think I will need to shoot a double figure weekend from here, but it is not like I haven’t done that in the past.”