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McDowell 'licks wounds' after going back to 80s

Ulsterman admits to worrying cracks in psyche ahead of US Open defence

Celtic Manor is a place of many faces and not just because when one is driving along the M4 its peerlessly plush five-star hotel happens to resemble the Gwent State Penitentiary. Just like Colin Montgomerie before him, Graeme McDowell will testify to its split personality after suffering his joint worst score on the European Tour.

One day you are the toast of all Europe; the next you are just toast. Surely this 81 proves that. To think, last year McDowell won the Wales Open here and then in October holed the winning putt in the Ryder Cup.

Those eight months seemed a lifetime ago for McDowell yesterday, after falling from seven-under and second place to three-over and 33rd. And his day could have been even more ghastly. He escaped a two-shot penalty on the 12th after explaining to the referee, John Paramor, that he did not mean to improve his lie following a duffed chip. As it was, he ran up a quadruple bogey eight on the par-four.

By then, in his own words, "my head was gone". He called the first seven holes "the craziest I've played in a long time" when he dropped eight shots and "nothing went right for me". "I was playing to about a 22 handicapper," he said. McDowell pulled it back with birdies on the eighth and ninth but then a yank into the water on the 11th.

"It was a stupid shot – it broke my heart," said the world No 5. "I had all of Wales to the left of me and I pulled it. No, I didn't swing it well today. But there are mental areas of my game I have to assess. When it's going wrong, I just don't have the 'dig deep' at the moment."

McDowell was fully justified in looking concerned. In a week's time he will arrive at Congressional to defend his US Open title – and that major is the last place a player wants to be with any cracks in his psyche. When this experience is put alongside the 79 in the final round of The Players last month, it is difficult to see how the doubts won't be swirling.

For now, all he can do is recover what confidence he can. "Tomorrow I've just got to go out there shoot 66 and then go home and lick my wounds and get ready for Congressional," he said. McDowell will spend a few days at his parents' house in Portrush before meeting his coach, Pete Cowen, in Orlando for two days on the range. Expect that 48 hours to be intensive.

McDowell was not the only playerstruggling as the winds saw the Twenty Ten Course bear its teeth. Six out of the 64 players fired rounds in the 80s, the retro mob featuring four Ryder Cuppers in McDowell, Darren Clarke, Thomas Levet and Paul Broadhurst. Meanwhile, only eight managed to break 70. And there was Monty feeling sorry for himself when he left on Friday after his worst score on the European Tour in 20 years.

The 60s heroes included Anders Hansen, whose 66 took him to seven-under. It was highlighted by an eagle on the 575-yard, par-five 18th. "It's very tough out there," said Hansen. "I just tried to keep the ball in play."

His accuracy was rewarded with a place in today's final grouping alongside Sweden's Alexander Noren, who leads by one after a 71. On the same mark as Hansen is another Swede in Peter Hanson. The 33-year-old was also a member of Monty's team and yesterday continued to ride the good vibes with a 69. At least someone is.

Donald calls 'dumb' heckler's bluff

Luke Donald discovered the minus side of being the world No 1 when he was heckled at The Memorial in Ohio. But commendably the Englishman stood his ground and recovered his poise after the incident during the second round.

Donald, who usurped his countryman Lee Westwood at the top last weekend, had just left his third shot in the bunker at the par-four 13th when a member of the crowd close by began laughing loudly. Donald swivelled on his feet and stared down the culprit, although a journalist from The Columbus Dispatch did hear the man tell his friends, "He's only small I think I can take him."

However, he didn't seem so courageous when Donald's caddie, John McLaren, approached. "He was just a dumb spectator not showing much respect," said Donald. "I gave him a little stare-down. He went quiet. Very brave when you're behind the ropes."

Donald, playing his last event before next week's US Open, shrugged it off and birdied three of the final five holes for a 69 to stand at five-under, three behind the leader Steve Stricker. Rory McIlroy teed off in last night's third round in the group in second place, three behind the American.

James Corrigan