Masters champion Jordan Spieth may have suffered an Augusta National hangover as he opened with a 74 but 2013 winner Graeme McDowell felt liberated at Hilton Head as a super 66 gave him a share of the first round lead in the RBC Heritage.
Struggling to find any kind of consistency this year and coming off another disappointing putting week at the Masters, where he was 52nd, McDowell drew on the positives of his win at Harbour Town Golf Links two years ago as made six birdies in a five under effort to grab a share of the first round lead with American Matt Every.
It wasn’t just his putting form that pleased McDowell, who has fallen from 15th to 31st in the world since the end of last year and struggled to find his form since he tied for ninth in his season-opening event in Dubai in February.
The Portrush man has also found it tough to hit his reliable cut shot. But he welcomed its return was warmly as he would a long-lost friend at tight and tricky Harbour Town, where the 35-year old is seeking his first Top-10 in his sixth PGA Tour start of the year.
“It’s a shot I’ve been working on for the last few weeks and it hasn’t been in my game enough,” McDowell said of the 165-yard cut around trees he hit with a seven iron at the 12th, setting up a six foot chance he gratefully converted for the fifth birdie of a six-birdie day.
He hit another fine cut shot into the 13th and rolled in the 18 footer to grab a share of the lead and he confessed that his putting was what pleased him most suffering after another confidence-sapping week on the greens at Augusta National, where his hit-the-back-of-the-hole style does not pay off.
“The blade felt pretty hot,” McDowell told Sky Sports. “After how bad my speed was last week, I was really comfortable with my speed coming here. I blew everything through the break last week at Augusta but this week I am a lot more dialled in. The putter is hot so let’s hope it remains that way at the weekend.”
McDowell bogeyed the first when he missed the green and a five footer for par. But he drained a 32-footer for a birdie at the par-five second, chipped to four feet to set up another birdie at the par-five fifth and saved par from seven feet at the sixth before dropping a nine-footer for a two at the 195-yard seventh.
Two under to the turn, he hit a lovely approach and holed a 16-footer at the 10th and then birdied the 12th and 13th to snatch a share of the lead before saving a great par from 12 feet after misjudging the wind at the par-three 14th.
And while outside chances failed to drop for him at the 15th, 16th or 18th, the 2010 US Open champion was more than happy with his start and hopes to build on it and gain on confidence as the meat of the season approaches.
“Flat stick was behaving itself after a fairly rough week on the greens last week at Augusta,” the Portrush man told Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio. “I felt like I was starting the ball on line but I had no speed control last week. This week, I am really working hard on speed, seeing it better, seeing these greens so much better and I feel I can make everything out there.
“So it was nice. I have good memories and good feels from winning here two years ago and it’s such a nice decompressing week after the pressures of last week.”
His par save at the 14th pleased him as much as the six birdies because he holed such a good putt after misjudging the wind and losing his tee shot to the left.
“It was just perfect speed,” he said of the putt. “I don’t think I made a putt anything like that last week. Not once. And today I made several of them and it was nice to feel settled again.”
Addressing his early season mini-slump, he confessed: “I’ve been grinding. I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s been four or five weeks of grinding for me. We always say you are got to stick to processes and not get obsessed by results. Every now and again you need a little something though, just to keep you happy. I needed something like this.
“I hope that will settle me down and I’ll look forward to the weekend here and get back out here tomorrow. It’s nice to see some reward for the hard work I’ve been putting in.”
McDowell and Every lead by a shot from Sangmoon Bae with world No 2 and freshly crowned Masters champion Spieth tied 93rd after a three over 74 that featured two bogeys and a double bogey five against just one birdie, which came at his 15th hole.
"Got a good feeling about tomorrow," Spieth said. "Feel like I got some swings in, got in somewhat of a rhythm and can at least go out and feel the shots. It was just an off day and it happens."