Graeme McDowell visibly relished a toughened US Open-like course set-up by producing a right fist pump in taking a birdie at the final hole in a round of 72 on the opening day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
McDowell was out in the afternoon half of the draw and was progressing well over the front nine to be one-under after a birdie at the ‘tightened’ par-4 ninth hole.
In fact, G Mac along with defending champ Bryson DeChambeau, were just two players in the 122-player field to birdie the ninth hole.
McDowell then headed into the back nine quickly dropping shots at 10 and 12 to be back to one-over before finding himself two-over in dropping a shot at 15.
Thankfully, the former US Open champ got one back on the 17th but was taken back somewhat when his drive at the par-5 18th ran off the fairway at the dog-leg from where he laid-up to 89-yards.
“I didn’t hit a great third shot but it was a beautiful distance, and the good thing is I feel I can make putts and I made that putt.
“So, that was a good finish as it would have been disappointing to let the day get away from me as I did the hard part in playing the front nine well.
“All go now for the weekend as I am driving it well. I am hitting my irons good and I just need to clean-up my chipping around the greens.”
“I made a couple of silly mistakes coming in taking bogeys at 10, 12 and 15 but like I say, it was nice to steady the ship and birdie the last two coming in so that was very pleasing.
“You only have to look at the scores to see how tough it was out there, and it is tough to get it on the fairway which it is then difficult to get the ball on the greens while chipping and putting around the greens is very difficult, as well.
“So, I think all the lads have been pretty surprised by the course set-up here as it not what we have come to expect here at the Emirates Club as it’s normally a score-fest here.
“I don’t love what they’ve done but it suits me. It’s a grind out there and that is good for my type of game.
“It’s US Open-ish how they’ve set it up and I can understand why it will be the lowest number of players to break par on the first day in 30-years.
“So, while it’s hard to find the fairways, the greens as they are so firm, and while it’s great the greens are taking an iron shot but then if you miss the greens chipping then becomes very difficult.
“The greens are very firm and they’re very fast, so for those guys who have played here a lot it is a very different test this year.”
Belgium’s Thomas Pieters heads the new reduced field of 120 in posting a five-under par 67, and this was after he took a double-bogey at the first hole and the 10th of his round before dropping a shot at the next.
Among those to struggle was the England trio Tommy Fleetwood (75), Danny Willett (76) and Lee Westwood (78), with Westwood a winner just four days ago just ‘down the highway’ in Abu Dhabi.
Thomas Bjorn bogeyed his opening three holes and withdrew while Andy Sullivan was disqualified for signing an incorrect score at two holes in his round of 77.