McDowell and Westwood share Malaysian lead
 Lee Westwood of England in action during the first round of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. Photo by Khalid Redza/ Asian Tour

Lee Westwood of England in action during the first round of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club. Photo by Khalid Redza/Asian Tour

Graeme McDowell believes he is reaping the benefits of a hard winter’s work after taking a share of the lead on day one of the Maybank Malaysian Open, writes the European Tour.

The Northern Irishman carded a six under par 66 at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club to join defending champion Lee Westwood at the top of the leaderboard.

And the former US Open Championship was pleased to continue the progress he made last week, when he finished tied for ninth in Dubai on his first start of 2015.

“I was fairly happy with the way everything looked coming into the new year,” said the 35 year old Ryder Cup star. “I did a lot of work off the course over the winter improving some things physically and in my swing, and things seem to be clicking really well. 

“It’s early days, but I’m feeling relaxed and my attitude’s good. If I can continue that for the rest of the year then good things will happen.

“I hit the ball great today, drove it well and gave myself a lot of looks for birdie. I had a few that didn’t go in and holed a couple of longer ones. 

"I had one mistake from the middle of the fairway. I lost my concentration for a second, which is very easy to do in this heat.

“I was fairly happy with the way everything looked coming into the new year. I did a lot of work off the course over the winter improving some things physically and in my swing, and things seem to be clicking really well. 

"It’s early days, but I’m feeling relaxed and my attitude’s good, too. If I can continue that for the rest of the year then good things will happen.

“This morning I was really just trying to keep my emotions in check and not over-react to any mistakes I made. It really is too hot to get mad out there, so you have to keep your emotions under control.

In breezy conditions, McDowell’s Ryder Cup team-mate Westwood carded four birdies in an outward 32 at the venue where he romped to a seven shot victory last year.

A further gain followed at the long third, but the 41 year old dropped his only shot of the day after missing a five footer at the sixth.

Westwood was one of those tied for ninth with McDowell last Sunday, and he responded with birdies from six feet at the seventh and 20 feet at the ninth.

 Lee Westwood. Picture © Getty Images

Lee Westwood. Picture © Getty Images

“I putted very nicely and started the ball on line well,” said Westwood. “I left a couple short in the middle when I was fooled by the grain, but overall I’m very happy. It’s probably the toughest I’ve ever seen this golf course play.”

McDowell had also started on the back nine, and having picked up shots at the tenth, 15th and 17th, started for home with consecutive gains.

Like Westwood he dropped his only shot at the sixth after failing to get up-and-down from in front of the green, but holed from eight feet at the next and six feet on his final hole.

And the 35 year old would have led outright but for missing a five foot chance in between at the short eighth after a tremendous tee shot.

“I’m pretty happy,” added McDowell. “I hit the ball great today - drove it well and gave myself a lot of looks for birdie. 

“Generally I’m very, very happy with that start. I’ve enjoyed the way this golf course looks from the start and I enjoyed playing it this morning with good company from the boys - it’s a solid start.

“It’s tough to pinpoint what you have to do right on this course because you have to do everything right. You have to drive it well, hit your irons well, and chipping and putting around the greens is tough as well. 

“It really is kind of an all-round golf course, and the guys who have won round here – Lee Westwood, Thongchai Jaidee and Ryan Moore on the PGA Tour – are good all-round players. I think when I’m on, I’m one of those players as well.”

The leading pair are one ahead of England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who holed a lengthy birdie putt at the eighth in his round of 67, and home favourite Danny Chia.

Paul McGinley, Europe's 2014 Ryder Cup Captain, was delighted and suprised to post a three under par 69 in his first outing of the 2015 season and only his fourth game of golf since he underwent more knee surgery last November.

"To be honest I didn't play very," McGinley said. "Absolutely delighted to shoot three under par. I really struggled with my swing, got underneath it all day long. But I putted well, kept the ball in play and started with a bogey and finished with a bogey. In between there were no bogeys so overall it was a good score. The score is more important than the swing so I've got to do a bit of work on that.

"My knee was okay today but I haven't put the work in [on my game] and in this game you have to put the work in so I will try to do an hour's practice this afternoon. But I have got to conserve my energy too and try to get a feel for my swing. I am not a million miles away."

Peter Lawrie continued his positive return to form after losing his card last year by opening with two birdies and just one bogey in a 71 worth a share of 30th place as Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey had two double bogeys each in three over 75s.

Maybank Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur Golf and CC (Par 72)

66 L Westwood (Eng), Graeme McDowell (Nir),

67 S Kang (Kor), D Chia (Mas), T Fleetwood (Eng)

68 A Cañizares (Esp), A Hansen (Den), R Bland (Eng), P Meesawat (Tha),

69 A Dodt (Aus), P Waring (Eng), Paul McGinley (Irl), R Lee (Can), S Gallacher (Sco), J Higginbottom (Aus),

70 R Rock (Eng), F Aguilar (Chi), S Barr (Aus), M Warren (Sco), R Wattel (Fra), A Lahiri (Ind), A Sullivan (Eng), R Karlsson (Swe), B Wiesberger (Aut), G Bourdy (Fra), N Colsaerts (Bel), E Grillo (Arg), A Quiros (Esp), M Jamil (Mas),

71 T Pilkadaris (Aus), J Pagunsan (Phi), N Fung (Mas), J Quesne (Fra), M Foster (Eng), R Jacquelin (Fra), Peter Lawrie (Irl), C Phadungsil (Tha), M Lundberg (Swe),

72 G Stal (Fra), A Que (Phi), N Holman (Aus), P Uihlein (USA), G Havret (Fra), S Kapur (Ind), K Broberg (Swe), A Vongvanij (Tha), D Lipsky (USA), E Molinari (Ita), T Jaidee (Tha), S Dyson (Eng), M Madsen (Den), P Peterson (USA), M Fraser (Aus), M Jiménez (Esp), L Bjerregaard (Den),

73 S Hend (Aus), R Khan (Ind), O Fisher (Eng), P Larrazábal (Esp), B Easton (RSA), R Karlberg (Swe), W Ormsby (Aus), O Wilson (Eng), S Jamieson (Sco), U Park (Aus), D Howell (Eng), T Pieters (Bel), J Morrison (Eng), R Finch (Eng), J Colomo (Esp), C Pigem (Esp), S Brazel (Aus), H Otto (RSA), J Singh (Ind), S Othman (Mas), M Baldwin (Eng), R Nachimuthu (Mas), P Hedblom (Swe),

74 M Tabuena (Phi), S Yates (Sco), K Pratt (Aus), G Bhullar (Ind), S Sivachandran (Mas), A Lascuna (Phi), A Zahari (Mas), L Wen-Chong (Chn), F Zanotti (Par), J Carlsson (Swe), T Khrongpha (Tha), P Marksaeng (Tha), G Green (am) (Mas),

75 J Knutzon (USA), A Kang (USA), K Kheng Hwai (Mas), Y Wei-Tze (Tpe), A Groom (Aus), Michael Hoey (Nir), Damien McGrane (Irl), M Manassero (Ita), T Hatton (Eng), H Chien-Yao (Tpe), C Nirat (Tha),

76 M Crespi (Ita), S Baek (Kor), M Perera (Sri), A Atwal (Ind), R Cabrera-Bello (Esp), G Charoenkul (Tha), J Kruger (RSA), K Baharin (Mas), C Plaphol (Tha), M Mamat (Sin), M Kawamura (Jpn), A Irawan (Mas), S Lewton (Eng), W Choo (Mas), T Aiken (RSA), S Chawrasia (Ind), D Abd Aziz (am) (Mas), G Green (am) (Mas),

77 S Rahman (Ban), D Brooks (Eng), G Storm (Eng), J Janewattananond (Tha), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), A Forsyth (Sco), S Muda (Mas), P Junhasavasdikul (Tha), J Wang (Kor), L Wei-Chih (Tpe), R Gangjee (Ind),

78 K Richardson (Aus), J Randhawa (Ind), S Hussin (Mas), Y Yang (Kor), J Jeong (Kor), S Khan (Eng), N Tantipokhakul (Tha), T Olesen (Den), A Da Silva (Bra),

79 T Wiratchant (Tha), E Pepperell (Eng), H Jamil (Mas), B Henson (USA), P Pittayarat (Tha), 

80 S Supupramai (Tha), K Aphibarnrat (Tha), R Wannasrichan (Tha), S Yasin (Mas), M Both (Aus),

81 B Leong (Mas), C Tuck-Soon (Mas),

83 R Amin (Mas), L Weber (Fra),

84 L Yu Shuen (Mas),

RET D Willett (Eng).