Graeme McDowell's decision to skip the BMW PGA at Wentworth paid off when he had just 25 putts in bogey-free 66 to sit just a shot off the lead in the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational at Colonial Country Club.
The 37-year old from Portrush, 107th in the FedEx Cup standings with four top 25s from 11 starts, made four birdies in a four-under par round and shares fourth place, one stroke behind Derek Fathauer, J.T. Poston and Kelly Kraft in his first start at the iconic Texas venue made famous by Ben Hogan.
Starting on the back nine, McDowell made an 18 footer for birdie at the par-five 11th and a series of solid par-saving putts (including a 10- footer at the 16th) before hitting his approach inside three feet at the 18th in blustery conditions.
He made that one to turn in 33, then repeated the feat on the back nine, holing a 37 footer for a two at the fourth and an eight-footer for par at the fifth before hitting a 184-yard approach to two feet at the seventh to set up his fourth birdie of the day.
"It's just a real classic, old-school golf course," McDowell said. "So many guys have told me over the years this would be a great golf course for me. It's always been a tough decision to make around Wentworth time on what to do.
"This year I thought I would come over and check out Colonial. Obviously very, very happy with what I saw so far, and obviously nice to get out there and get off to a good start.
"There is always that kind of at the back of your mind thinking when you're playing against guys that have been playing here for years and years, you're hoping you're making the right decisions off tees and sort of got the right strategy on holes.
"I really felt like I played the course correctly today, and obviously nice to get a low score under my belt."
McDowell confessed that he's in Texas chasing FedEx Cup points after a solid but unspectacular start to the year.
"With it being a non-Ryder Cup year, I felt like I could keep my focus here in the States," he said. "And let's be honest. Going forward, this really is where any focus is. My family are here. I love the product that's the PGA Tour and the FedExCup. It's hard not to play a lot of your golf over here at the moment.
"Of course I will keep my European Tour card and continue to play some back there, but the FedExCup is so lucrative, and I've never made to Atlanta. I would like to make it there sometime."
As for his first visit to Colonial Country Club, he was thrilled he made the trip.
"Yeah, it was nice," he said. "It's always tough to come to a golf course like this for the first time that they've been playing for so many years here on the PGA Tour.
"You are always a little worried that you're going to get your strategies wrong and not know the little nuances of a golf course like this one.
"I had to good looks at it Tuesday and Wednesday, and really felt like I made some good decisions out there in this increasing wind. We got off to a pretty nice start this morning in some benign conditions. We really got a dozen or so holes under our belt before this wind started to get up.
"It looks like it's going to be a blustery afternoon, so as I say, nice to get out there and take advantage of the conditions."
On his season so far— two T14 finishes in the Honda Classic and the Valspar Championship are his best results— McDowell said: "The game has been very good. Patience has been a big word sort of early in the season. It's hard to stay patient sometimes.
"Just not really been getting the results that I feel like I need to sort of keep giving me that confidence to move forward. I've managed to stay patient, and I really like the way I'm hitting the ball.
"Just got to keep plugging along. Nice to come to a golf course like this one where I really feel like it fits my eye and you don't have to hit it 150 yards for a change.
"It's easy to be out there and think to myself, I've got to legitimise my decision to be here; I've got to prove that I made the right decision.
"I kind of said to myself, I'm not really here to prove anything to anyone. I'm here because I want to be here and I want to chase some FedExCup points.
"Like I say, I don't want to have to answer the question did I make the right decision to come here or should I be in Wentworth. Looking at the sunny skies in London this morning and watching a little bit of the golf on TV, yeah, looked beautiful there.
"But I'm here for all the right reasons and not really here to prove anything to anybody.
"I really like the golf course. Tuesday was a little bit of a kind of start-and-stop day, but I managed to come out late afternoon. I think I was here until about 8:30 on Tuesday making sure I got a really good look at the golf course.
"I like it a lot. It's old school. It's got some magnificent holes. Like I say, you're always kind of a little worried that you might miss some of the nuances.
"Guys been coming here for 20, 30 years. It's always tough to come here for the first time and, like I said, make sure you execute a good strategy and game plan.
"I felt like I did that pretty well today."
Not one of the longest hitters, McDowell knows he must get hsi schedule spot on if he's to get back into the world's top 50 and become a major contender again.
"I've had guys that I look to for schedule hints and tips, guys like Jim Furyk, Snedeker, Zach Johnson, guys that I would sort of put my game on a similar statistical level, guys like that have been telling me for years and years I would love this place," said McDowell, who is now ranked 87th in the world from a high of sixth following his stellar 2010 season.
"Obviously it's windy," said the former US Open winner. "This is a golf course that you don't have to move it 320, 350. In fact, that can be a negative at times because some of the tee shots are very narrow.
"Yeah, that really was a big reason why I wanted to come. It's a non-Ryder Cup year. I really feel like I -- I'm going to be back -- most of the month of July I'll be in Europe. I wanted to try and get as many FedExCup points as I could before I go back and do that European run."
As for his round, he said: "1 to 5 is a tough stretch on this golf course. It was nice in a way to not start there this morning early.
"The start on the back is maybe slightly more benign, and that's just luck the draw sometimes. It was nice to be coming into that front five warmed up and kind of good to go. I missed a fairway right on 1 which you're not supposed to. Actually gave myself a good look at birdie.
"But, no, I got through those holes. I made a great birdie on 4, which was one I had from the back fringe, and that really got me going. I hit a great tee shot around the corner on 5.
"I played that stretch reasonable well. Great golf course. Obviously this wind strength here now for the afternoon and we're going to see it again a little bit tomorrow. It really brings another added dynamic to the golf course."
As for the check jacket awarded to the winner, he said: "You know, it's a similar plaid to the one on Hilton Head, and I think I looked equally bad in that one as I hopefully would in this one.
"I'm not really worried about a colour clash. I wear pink on Sundays generally. It would clash pretty nicely I think.
"It's a long way to go. I'm just very happy with that start and look forward to getting back out there tomorrow."