Graeme McDowell pulled-off one of his best birdies of the new season at the last hole to seize a one-stroke lead at 12-under par heading to the final round of the Saudi International.
McDowell leaked his drive well left down the par-5 last hole to then find his ball settled in the middle of what can only described as mini canyon on the Royal Greens course and laid out along a stunning Red Sea. GMac had no sight of the fairway just a virtually wall of rock and sand before brilliantly managing to hit a gap-wedge second shot back onto the fairway and finding the putting surface with his third.
Then to the delight of a packed 18th hole two storey corporate suite McDowell holed his eight-foot birdie putt.
“That birdie at the last was pretty special as I was between clubs on the tee and with Kenny (Comboy – caddie) and myself discussing how short the tee shot was playing because I thought that the guys out earlier were running out of the fairway and finding the water,” he said.
“So, we were a bit scared of the tee shot but I convinced Kenny to let me hit driver but it was an indecisive type shot.
“I went down there and while it was well down and a pretty deep part of the course, I was fortunate with my lie even though there is a lot of scrubby-type stuff along with rocks and other things.
“I could get a club on the ball and get in back into position, and I hit it well and then played a conservative third shot and the ball ran down nicely and I holed the putt. “It was a pleasing way to finish the day after missing a birdie there on 17 by misreading the putt but the back nine was very special when you look also at my birdies at 12, 13 and 14.”
While G Mac tasted success on last year’s PGA Tour, it’s been some five-and-a-half years since McDowell last won on the European Tour in capturing a second straight French Open title in 2014, and the last time he led going into a final round was sharing the third day lead a year earlier in Versailles.
And McDowell now has to play the last round in the company of Frenchman Victor Dubuisson (65), and who McDowell took under his wing at the 2014 Gleneagles winning Ryder Cup, and with the duo sharing a car to the Saudi course on Saturday.
“It’s great to see Victor on a leader-board as I’ve had a soft spot for him since that Ryder Cup, and I always keep an eye on his,” said McDowell.
“He’s struggled in recent years since Gleneagles but he’s such a nice guy and my experiences with him at that Ryder Cup is one I will always remember for a long time.“It will be tough to play alongside him tomorrow, but I want to him as I am sure he is.”
And McDowell spent Friday night on-course in the company of his caddy along with Ricky Elliott, and caddy to World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, joining over 12,000 locals rocking to a Bryan Adams concert.
“I’ve always been a bit of a Bryan Adams fan and he was really good,” said McDowell. “He sang all his hits and what was great was seeing so many of the local Saudi community really enjoying the concert, so well down to the organisers as it was a great night.”
Shane Lowry birdied his closing two holes in a round of 70 to finish sharing 16th place at four-under par. The Open Champion got off to a good start with birdies at the second and fourth holes but gave the shots back with bogeys on the sixth and eighth holes. He then doubled the par-3 11th hole before carding a pair of birdies to end his day.
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