Masters 2014: Graeme McDowell hopes the omens prove correct
Being the best putter on the PGA Tour so far this season may pay off on Augusta's treacherous greens
Thursday 10 April 2014
They were heady days or rather, for those watching at home, nights. For four years in row a British player won the Masters and exchanging Green Jackets became the most exclusive version of pass the parcel ever played. Sandy Lyle led the way in 1988 to be followed by Nick Faldo twice and then Ian Woosnam in 1991.
But since Faldo won his third title in 1996, as if they had tired of haggis, fish and chips and Welsh rarebit being served up at the champions' dinner, no one has managed to join this masterful trio.
Early signs in the first round of the 78th Masters were that if anyone was going to get onto the leaderboard from across the pond it would have to be one of the old stagers. Woosie, in the second group of the day, made an early birdie before falling back to a 77. Lyle made three birdies in a row then gave back, and more.
How about a first-timer? Stephen Gallacher went out in 33 before bogeying the first three holes of the second nine. Ian Poulter opened with a 76, while Jamie Donaldson bogeyed the last for a 73. With the wind picking up in the middle of the day, some of the later starters struggled early on. Luke Donald had a double bogey at the first, Justin Rose was three over after three and Darren Clarke, playing his 500th European Tour event, was out in 39.
Clarke, the Open champion in 2011, was one of the beneficiaries of a quirk of fate that has seen Irishmen win the last four major championships in which Tiger Woods was unable to play. Padraig Harrington twice and Rory McIlroy at the 2011 US Open were the others. Might this week's absence of the world No 1 benefit Graeme McDowell?
McDowell is the best putter on the PGA Tour so far this season, according to the statistics. Such things mean little in the heat of competition but on these treacherous greens you need a wand that behaves itself.
Though the course was still a little soft due to the rain on Monday, there was a suspicion that a really low score was possible. Not a bit of it. The greens were still running at hyper speed and the holes were cut in some tricky positions. Before the round McDowell tweeted a picture of the pin sheet and the comment: "Not breaking us in gently."
Not even McDowell could save himself from three-putting three times, once from the fringe at the second. That set the tone for the day. He knew his uphill putt was slow but bashed it five feet past and then missed the downhill return.
The Northern Irishman parred the entire front nine but then bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes, three-stabbing the former and missing the fairway on the latter. He also took three putts at the 15th after two fine long shots onto the green but 45 feet from the hole. "It was one of the fastest putts I've ever seen," he said. "I hit it half as hard as I wanted and it still went 15 feet past."
There were chances missed at the 12th and the 16th holes but he claimed a second birdie of the day at the 17th and got up and down from a bunker at the last. A level-par day meant no damage none. Of those 72 shots, 32 were putts. "I had a lot of hits with the putter for a guy who felt he putted well today," he said.
McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, has a poor record at Augusta, missing the cut four times in six previous appearances. But if the weather forecast of a dry and hot weekend is to be believed, the course could get as firm and fast as he would like. "This is the most comfortable I've felt here," he said. "I'm fed up with beating myself up. I'm going to enjoy the challenge for what it is."
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