McDowell takes another step on the road back to the summit

Graeme McDowell insists he won’t “be back” quite yet, even if pulls off a final round comeback and wins the Honda Classic.

The world No 73 has short term problems to resolve in that he must remain inside the Top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings to qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral next week and keep alive his chances of squeaking into the WGC-Cadillac Matchplay. 

But he’s also looking at the bigger picture which is a return to golf’s top echelon and he was clearly chuffed to come back from a mid-round wobble to post a three under par 67 that left him tied for sixth at the end of another fraught day at PGA National.

Sergio Garcia shot a 67 and Adam Scott came back from a quadruple bogey seven at the 15th to post a 66 as they ended the day four clear of Blayne Barber on nine under par.

With Rickie Fowler slipping to a 74 that relegated him to tied fourth alongside Justin Thomas on four under, McDowell found himself “just” six behind at the end of the day.

He's tied for sixth with veteran Vijay Singh and Scott Brown. But even at six adrift, he will not expect everyone to come back to him on a course that is still hugely punishing.

“I am going to have to go out there and shoot a low number to have a shot,” McDowell said after a round featuring six birdies, one bogey and a double bogey six. 

He just has to avoid a final round implosion to qualify for Doral but he’s not ready to declare his game back to its old level just yet.

“Definitely too early to say that. Save that headline," he said with a smile. "I will be happy to tell you when I am back. If I win tomorrow, I am close to being back. I have one foot back in the room again.

"I better go out and go low. It is not like we have a bunch of chops at the top of the leaderboard and they are all going to come back to me. I have to go low tomorrow.”

McDowell’s golf was brilliant at times on Saturday with his birdie twos at the seventh and 17th truly spectacular. 

“I’m enjoying the way I’m playing and more importantly, I’m enjoying the way I'm feeling on the golf course," he said. "I'm feeling very relaxed and very patient, and just starting to see some of the rewards of all the work I've been doing the last six months.

"You can never predict what's going to happen but I really feel like I'm doing a lot of things the right way again, and I've just got to be real patient. I feel like I can have a big year, but I’ve got to stay very patient and keep in the processes. 

“Weekends like this one, rounds like that today, it’s just going to give me the confidence to keep kind of going forward and pour that back into the game and we'll see what happens."

Asked to define what he means by being patient, he said it meant guarding against going out saying to himself, ‘I’m flushing it, let's go and shoot 65.’ 

“For me at the minute it means allowing myself the time to find my way back into leaderboards and the upper echelons of the game again," he said.

"it is not going to happen overnight. It will require a lot of grinding and maybe some mistakes but if I can keep doing what I am doing in practice, it can only start to feed onto the golf course again. I guess I am just giving myself time to let that happen.”

It’s perhaps fortunate that he’s facing a stretch of tough courses right now rather than tracks that favour the bombing middle classes. 

“A course like this, and Doral, and Tampa, and Bay Hill, those are courses that don’t let you get ahead of yourself. Courses where a 63 is the going rate is not my kind of game. I like a course like this where I can shoot five or six under — for the week.”

McDowell celebrates his birdie at the 17th

McDowell celebrates his birdie at the 17th

Tough courses also suit Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington but they had mixed days at the Champion Course on Saturday.

Lowry might have bogeyed the 16th and 17th to turn a possible 67 into a 69 but he’s enjoying the challenge of tackling a schedule that is taking a lot out of him both physically and mentally.

Tied 22nd on one over, the Offaly man is just three shots outside the Top 10 and hopeful he can have a good finish before resting up for the Blue Monster and the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump Doral next week.

“I felt like I putted lovely today,” said Lowry, who holed 87 feet worth of putts and used the blade just 27 times. “But I left a score out there again and finished badly yesterday and today. 

“My goal was to get under par for the tournament and I had it there but hit a bad, sloppy shot at 16 and made bogey and a bad swing on 17 (in the water) and found the bunker off the tee trying to hit a big tee shot at the last.

“It’s amazing. I drove the ball unbelievable yesterday. The first day I struggled off the tee, iron play was good. Today my iron play felt good, putter felt good. It’s just a question of putting it all together. Maybe next week, or tomorrow.

“If I shoot mid-60s I could Top-10 it so that’s the plan. I am learning more about this course every day that I play it so that will be knowledge for next year.

“It’s a tough course and it does beat me up a little bit but it does suit aspects of my game so it will probably be on the schedule next.”

Given the schedule he now faces, Lowry confessed that it’s far more demanding than before with tough courses and big events, week after week.

“There is no let up out there at all,” he said of PGA National. “Apart from 17 out there today, there are other holes apart from the Bear Trap that are brutal — 14 and 10 and even the seventh, the par three. It was 233 yards today into the wind.

"It’s one of the courses where you have to play well and putt really well. You are going to have a lot of five and 10 footers for pars and you have to hole them.”

Lowry didn’t have to putt at the seventh as he chipped in for a two to move into the red having followed birdies from 20 feet at the first and three feet at the par-five third with sloppy bogeys off wayward approach shots to the fourth and fifth.

A birdie at the ninth got him back on track but after hitting a great five-iron from 189-yards to five feet to set up a two at the 15th, he got too ambitious at the 17th and found the water with a five-iron. 

He got up and down from 132 yards for bogey, holing a 12 footer for his four there. But while he only parred the last — he bunkered his drive looking for the big tee shot — he knows he has to conserve his energy early next week for his assault on the Blue Monster.

“I said to Dermo, we won’t have any trouble sleeping next Sunday night after four rounds on this course and four rounds at Doral," Lowry joked.

“I think Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday I am going to really have to rest up and hit a few shots here and there — nine holes Tuesday and nine holes Wednesday.  

“Mentally you just have to be rested. Doral is just brutally tough as well. I suppose the golf course is scoreable but you really need to have your game and miss it in the right spots.”

Harrington had a tough day at the office, dropping shots at three of his last four holes for a two over 72 that relegated him from tied 28th to 43rd on three over par.

The Dubliner birdied the third but he struggled to get birdie putts to the hole at the second, fourth and  sixth and when then missed a six footer for par at the seventh.

Another bogey at the ninth left him where he started the day but after birdies at the 10th (20ft) and 12th (8ft) he never threaten to make another birdie.

A three-putt bogey at the 15th, where he missed a four footer, left him level for the day and he then hit a poor tee shot well left to bogey the 17th before missing a three footer for par at the last.

He was suitably downcast at the finish but still signed autographs for kids, handed out golf balls and eventually headed for the putting green in search of a stroke for Sunday.