Graeme McDowell confessed that the hole looks “pretty big” again after he rediscovered his driving and putting touch and fired his lowest round for three and a half years to grab the clubhouse lead the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico.
Bidding to get back into the world’s Top 50 to boost his Ryder Cup qualifying chances after slipping from 15th to 85th in the world over the past 12 months, the 36-year old former US Open winner made nine birdies in an eight under par 63, holing a succession of mid to long range putts, to lead by a shot on 12 under par at El Camaleon Golf Club in Playa del Carmen from American Derek Father (66).
“The hole looks pretty big,” said McDowell, who missed just three fairways and tallied 25 and 26 putts in the first two rounds. “The two biggest keys of my year, and the two biggest things that haven’t been performing, have been my driver and my putter.
“They are probably my two biggest strengths but I drove the ball much better than I did yesterday and I putted just as good. I am really seeing these greens really well, putting nice and decisively and making a few. I’ve enjoyed the first couple of day and I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
McDowell began the tournament by driving out of bounds and taking double bogey six but posted a 67 that included a rain-delayed run of five birdies in a row to trail by two overnight before following up with a superb 63.
He bogeyed the first again yesterday when it was his 10th, but having gone out in 31 with four back nine birdies, he came back from the dropped shot with some sensational putting.
After rolling in four birdies in a from the second to the fifth, he picked up another at the seventh to post lowest round since he shot a nine under par, second round 63 en route to second place in the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
McDowell, who could rise as high a 61st in the world with a win in Mexico, was the early clubhouse leader by two shots from South Korea’s Si Woo Kim (64) before Fathaeur posted his 66.
Seeking just his third official PGA Tour win following the 2010 US Open and the RBC Heritage two years ago, McDowell finished 160th in last season’s FedExCup and knows he can't afford another poor year as his exemption runs out at the end of the 2016 campaign.
While he'd love to make it to Doral and the Masters, his focus is on making sure he at least qualifies for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in Texas (Top 64 in the world).
For that reason, the PGA Tour will be his focus for the early part of the season and to that end he's also playing next week's RSM Classic (formerly the McGladery) at Sea Island.
“(I) came into these two weeks with a pretty relaxed attitude,” McDowell told PGATour.com. “The last couple days, so far, the attitude’s been good. I’ve just been out there trying to play golf and enjoy myself.”
McDowell admit that his desire to end his slump with a victory has caused him to put too much pressure on himself on recent weekends. Those mistakes are similar to the ones he made earlier in his career when he was trying to learn how to win, he said.
“I went through a spell in my career where winning started to become a little easier,” McDowell said. “I’ve had a spell here the last 18 months where making cuts has been hard and getting in contention has been difficult.
“I feel like I’ve got enough resources to pull on going into a weekend like this one. The keys are not getting too far ahead of myself and staying in the present. This is not the last-chance saloon this weekend.”