Graeme McDowell superbly turned back the Italian Open clock 14-years with a 66 on day one of the Rolex Series event in Brescia.
McDowell was level par standing on the 12th tee of the GardaGolf course ahead of completing his closing seven holes in five-under for a similar opening day tally.
McDowell birdied the 12th, eagled the par-5 13th and then birdied 16 for his lowest European Tour score this year, one fewer than his 67 in round two last week at Wentworth.
It left McDowell trailing just three shots behind the leading English duo of Robert Rock and Laurie Canter as well as South African Richard Sterne who each posted eight-under par 63s on the par-71 north Italian layout.
McDowell captured a second Tour title 14-years ago in winning the 2004 Italian Open in suburban Milan, in the process of defeating Frenchman Thomas Levet in a Monday play-off and at the time McDowell was also handed a 40-kilogram ‘wheel’ of Parmesan cheese.
This week is McDowell’s first Italian Open showing since missing the cut in 2005 in the defence of the title and there would be no such Parmesan prize this week should he win, but there is the headache he could hand Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn should the now 38-year old win what would be an 11th European Tour title and a first since his 2013 and ’14 French Open victories.
Fellow Irishman Paul Dunne posted a two-under par 70 that included seven birdies but also five bogeys while Padraig Harrington was two under par heading to the last ahead of walking off with a double-bogey in his score of 71.
Six times zones to the west, Rory McIlroy put two balls into the water over his closing five holes in an indifferent two-over par 74 at the Jack Nicklaus hosted Memorial in Dublin, Ohio
McIlroy, coming off a second place less than a week ago at Wentworth, was one-under standing on the 14th but found water left with his drive and did exactly with his second shot down the last.
Shane Lowry was one fewer in carding a one-over par 73. Lowry, striving to qualify automatically for next fortnight’s U.S. Open by avoiding a 36-hole qualifier next Monday, was two-under par after eight holes but walked off the ninth hole at level par in taking a double-bogey ‘6’.
The Clara golfer twice went bogey-birdie on his inward nine ahead of a third bogey in his score of 73.
Lowry had been critical last week at Wentworth of the decision to move the Walton Heath US Open qualifier to next Monday rather than the day immediately following the BMW PGA and his view remains the same given he’s entered to play 36-holes in nearby Columbus on Monday.
“Hopefully, I will have three more days here at the Memorial and avoid having to go to a qualifier,” he said.
“I am focussed though on playing well here this week and then I will worry about Monday. It would have been better to have been playing Walton Heath Monday earlier this week but for some strange reason the European Tour have moved it to next Monday.”
Tiger Woods, a five-time Memorial winner, shrugged off an early round stiff back and a horror start to birdie three of his closing five holes in his round of 72.
Woods was struggling badly to be four-over par through just seven holes but thanks to three birdies in succession near the end of his round he was in the clubhouse at level par.
“I wasn’t rotating very well today, back was tight, and it is what it is some days”, Woods said smiling.
“I made a few tweaks in my swing, my setup, and lo and behold I was able to make some good swings on the back nine, well, my back nine, and turned the whole thing around so at least I’ve now got a fighting chance”.
And when quizzed if his back concern had anything to do with playing the host course each day since Monday, the now 42-year old laughed off the question saying: “No, I just have days like that. It’s aging and it’s surgeries.”
“It is what it is. Just got to make the adjustments. I’m able to make them now. At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t able to make them, because I didn’t really know what to do yet. But now you see me making these adjustments on the fly.”
“One of the biggest adjustments as I’ve been alluding to is going from L.A. to Honda, making those adjustments on the fly. I turned a season around with that.”
It left the current World No. 83 ranked Woods trailing seven strokes behind the leading trio of 19-year old Chilean sensation Joaquin Niemann and Mexican Abraham Ancer who recorded seven-under par 65s.
Later joining the duo was Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who won the event on debut in 2014.
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