Brian Viner: McDowell defies fearsome wind with famous stroke at the 16th

On another day more suited to moorhens than birdies and eagles, Graeme McDowell managed to cling onto the leaderboard yesterday without ever quite reproducing the form that had yielded one of only three sub-par opening rounds and a share of the lead. The 28-year-old Ulsterman is used to leading the Open on day one, having posted a course record 66 down the coast at Hoylake two years ago, but he slumped to a final-round 79 that year and finished a distant 61st. This time, he is determined to keep the campaign going, and if a European is to prevail at Birkdale for the first time in nine Opens, he is certainly the form horse.

Click here for the latest leaderboard and statistics

McDowell played beautifully to capture the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond last week, and beautifully again on Thursday for his 69. His 73 yesterday was not a thing of quite such pulchritude, but it had other virtues, such as grit. Dropped shots at the second, sixth, 10th and 11th left him needing a decent finish, and the finishing stretch at Birkdale at least includes a pair of par-fives, the 15th and 17th, which in normal circumstances offer opportunities to improve the card. But these are not normal circumstances. Playing the 15th yesterday morning was like soldiering the wrong way through a wind tunnel, and although the 17th was downwind, the pin position on the controversial green, just over one of Birkdale's nastiest bunkers, might have been positioned by Torquemada.

Instead, McDowell found the birdie he so coveted on the 16th, the hole where a plaque marks the spot from which Arnold Palmer, in similar conditions, conjured one of the greatest shots in the history of major championship golf. During the final round in 1961, on what was then the 15th, Palmer's drive ended up in a tangle of gorse and bramble. He somehow excavated the ball with a six-iron and smashed it on to the green, uprooting a good deal of vegetation in the process. Palmer's swing was never pretty – the novelist John Updike once said it looked like someone wrestling with a snake – and that one must have been less pretty than most. But the shot was pivotal in Palmer getting his sausage fingers on the Claret Jug for the first time, and if McDowell manages to do likewise, he too will remember his second shot to Birkdale's only elevated green, albeit in the second round and from the fairway. It was a towering three-iron, belted as hard as he could into the unrelenting wind, to five feet. The shot of a man who grew up on the buffeted northern coast of Northern Ireland, where little old ladies go out to the shops and end up on the Mull of Kintyre.

Afterwards, McDowell declared himself "ecstatic" with that shot and also suggested that he is an altogether different golfer to the one who squandered the first-round lead in 2006. Heading into the weekend, he added, he is "right where I want to be". He could have been in an even better place had he holed an 18-foot putt on the last. It teetered on the lip and stopped, but he knocked it squarely in for his par, which was more than could be said for one of his playing partners, Rory Sabbatini, on the par-four third.

The South African is not known for his sunny disposition, indeed his disposition is very often the same colour as the Birkdale weather, and at 10 over par, having knocked his second over the back, he approached the green with a face like thunder. However, he then played an exquisite chip to an inch or two away, and with almost defiant insouciance, went to tap the ball into the hole with the toe of his putter. From where this correspondent was watching, it looked suspiciously as though he missed first time, and then repeated the stroke more successfully. The match referee, Mark Wilson, spotted it too, and questioned Sabbatini as soon as he walked off the green. Sabbatini explained that he had stumbled, which satisfied Wilson, who comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and happens to be the rules chairman of the USPGA. "Only he knows," he told me. "But these guys have a lot of integrity."

Coincidentally, there was a similar episode at the Open here in 1983, when Hale Irwin, when strongly in contention, wafted a tap-in at the 14th. Irwin called the air-shot on himself and as Wilson said, only Sabbatini knows whether he should have done the same. It would have made no difference, though. A 75 left him at 14 over par, while the third member of the trio, the 2004 champion Todd Hamilton, had a 74 to finish at eight over, just inside the projected cut. He will be here for the weekend but is hardly in a position to win the Open. Unlike McDowell.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all