Graeme McDowell’s captaincy and England’s Matt Wallace’s accuracy helped produce a six-under par 66 on the opening day of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. McDowell and Wallace posted seven birdies with Wallace displaying all his current World No. 51 talent in grabbing four winning birdies in the ‘best ball’ format on the TPC Louisiana course.
The all-Norwegian duo of Viktor Hovland and Kris Ventura are tied at the top at 10-under par alongside the all-Americans Scott Stallings and Brice Garnett at the €6.2m event. World No.248 Ventura upstaging his potential 2021 Ryder Cup colleague with seven scoring birdies in the event boasting 76 teams. The hot-shot pairing of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay are well placed on eight-under par.
McDowell and Wallace could only par the opening four holes before three birdies in the next four holes. Wallace birdied 10 and 11, and while the pair each bogeyed 16, McDowell birdied 17 and Wallace the last.
“We didn’t play all that well but we hung in there and made some birdies, so it turned out to be a good day and already looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow for the alternate shot format which kind of separates the men from the boys,” said McDowell.
McDowell admitted he had sent out text messages some weeks ago seeking a partner and it was not until his long-time caddie, Ken Comboy was having breakfast at the Valero Texas Open earlier this month with Gareth Lord, the former long-time caddie to Henrik Stenson and now working with Wallace, that the topic of teaming came about.
“Both our caddies got together at San Antonio over breakfast with Matt’s caddie asking my caddie: ‘Who does GMac have for a partner?’,” said McDowell. “I then found out they’d been talking so I walked-up to Matt on the range in San Antonio and said to him: ‘Do you fancy giving the Zurich a go?’ So, thankfully he agreed.
“I had actually played well the week before out in the Dominican so I thought it strengthened my case for a partner because I was texting around and calling a few of the lads trying to rustle-up a partner despite missing several cuts in a row, and thinking to yourself that maybe no-one wants to play with me (laughing).
“So, I’ve ended-up with a really nice player and a guy who is here trying to win the tournament which is exactly what I am here for. Matt is a top world-ranked player and a pretty decent player. It’s also such a fantastic week as you get a partner who you enjoy their company, someone you enjoy being with and a good player, as well. Plus, you team with a guy who is equally driven as myself.
“And that is a big key this week because I think he and I have the same personality the way we look at shots and the way we go about things.”
Though there was one vital box that Wallace had to tick as McDowell explained: “Matt’s also a Manchester United fan so I’m not sure if Kenny would have not allowed me to choose anyone else who was not a Man U fan!”
McDowell said he accepted the ‘captaincy’ and he was full of praise for Wallace as a potential future Ryder Cup player, possibly under McDowell’s leadership in 2027, should McDowell be awarded the Adare Manor captaincy.
“I think Matt chose to hand over the captaincy to the veteran in the group and I am happy to accept the honour,” he said, smiling. “Matt is a Ryder Cup star of the future and I’m looking to be around many Ryder Cup’s over the next five to 10 years, and I also have not spent a lot of time with him.
“And given he is such a strong player, I thought there are plenty of reasons it could be a good partnership this week. He has a very intense personality and prepares hard and also focuses very hard. I feel like I can feed off that energy, as well.”
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