Rónán MacNamara in Oman
Graeme McDowell is relishing the challenge as he hunts a first tour title in three years at the blustery International Series Oman at Al Mouj, Muscat.
McDowell chiseled out a level-par 72 to remain on one-over-par but he made ground, reducing an overnight deficit from seven to five as high winds made for the type of US Open/Open Championship test he enjoys.
“It reminds me a little of the Dominican Republic, paspalum, windy, hot so it has those feels to me,” explained McDowell who lies in 19th with Takumi Kanaya of Japan leading the way on -4.
“Because it’s not a true links it makes things difficult, you can’t run anything in. Take the par-3s; it’s very difficult to take the front edge number on because if you pitch it on the green it gets a huge hop, front of the green it kills because of the paspalum and the graininess of it.
“It’s very difficult to make birdies and get the ball close to the hole. Pace putting suits my strength so I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m in touch with the leaders and it depends what the weather holds for the weekend.
“The first twelve holes were quite difficult, this course is a little like St Andrews, 8 holes in that direction and 10 in this direction. It depends where you start. I like beginning from the first tee because you get a long run from the fifth to thirteenth downwind all the way. If the wind switches that could change and be a completely different golf course. I like that, it will require strategy, thinking and that suits me and Kenny [caddie] at this point in our lives.
“The golf course is fantastic looking and plays a bit linksyish but you don’t get the opportunity to run a ball up to the green, the par fives can run to the sides of the greens and scoring is very difficult and that’s why you are seeing these type of scores.”
GMac got off to an iffy start with two three-putt bogeys on the first and fourth holes which were playing into the teeth of the gale. Once he turned with the wind at his back he began to settle and grind his way through the round, picking up a birdie at the vulnerable par-5 7th.
Admittedly, the 2010 US Open champion hit the ball better than he did on Thursday morning, but a rocky period saw him drop a shot on the par-3 11th and par the downwind par-5 12th. Successive birdies on 13 and 14 rolled him back into the mix at level-par.
An incredibly harsh, or fortunate lip out for birdie from just off the 16th green kept him at plus one and he closed with two solid pars.
Looking ahead to the weekend, McDowell would settle for level-par on Sunday evening and see where it leaves him.
“I felt like if I could stay around level par or one-over total I would be in the hunt heading into the weekend and I managed to do that,” he said. “It was a very tricky day, I actually hit the ball much better today than yesterday. Putting is difficult, I three-putted from the fringe on one, three putted from the fringe on four it’s very difficult to get the ball close to the hole so you’re pace putting all day.
“You have to really hang tough so it was a good hang tough day. Happy to be in the middle of the pack but I feel like it’s a weekend where level par has an outstanding shot of winning this tournament. If the wind switches and drops it may take ten-under but two more days like today I’d take level par and take my chances.”
The Portrush native has a formidable record in tough conditions none more so than his US Open win at Pebble Beach in 2010 while he also boasts wins at the Corales Puntacana and RBC Heritage at Harbour Town.
“It was reasonably benign yesterday morning but as we were finishing off you could feel what was possible. Spoke to Brooks [Koepka] and his crew last night, he obviously had a rough afternoon yesterday so we were schooled up on what was possible.
“I knew it would be difficult but typically these are the type of conditions I like, nobody likes them necessarily but I have a good record in this type of condition I enjoy hitting some shots out there and grinding and that’s what you wanna do at the start of the season, test yourself and ask questions and see where you’re at.”
- Scoring HERE