Spread the love

Northern Irishman is three shots off Rafa Cabrera Bello’s lead
Molinari’s 69 features hole-in-one, McIlroy starts with a 72

Graeme McDowell has plummeted to 269 in the world rankings
 Graeme McDowell has plummeted to 259 in the world rankings but is desperate to win a place at this year’s Open Championship at his home course of Royal Portrush. Photograph: Phelan M Ebenhack/AP

If Open Championship places were handed out on the basis of being candid about one’s struggles, Graeme McDowell would already be a certainty to tee up at Royal Portrush in July. Instead, a slide down to 259 in the world rankings means McDowell is playing catch-up – and some – as he bids to perform at the major he would relish more than any other.

Three Open berths are available at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week. McDowell, for whom Portrush is home, opened with a 68 to lie just three off the lead claimed by Rafa Cabrera Bello. So far, so good; even if McDowell is trying not to contemplate the bigger prize.

“It’s hard enough going out there trying to get your golf ball around 18 holes at this great golf course and just trying to stay in the moment,” McDowell said. “I haven’t played very well historically with a gun to my head.

“It’s a tough old game, these guys are awfully good, these courses are tough, and when you’re a little low on confidence it’s tough to get out of your own way but I’m trying and I’m very close.”

McDowell, who now has two children, does not shirk the question of what happened to a career that delivered a US Open title in 2010. “Life just got in the way,” he said. “Mostly the family stuff. I don’t think I ever sat back and rested on my laurels. Just my practice changed, the time that I was giving to the game changed and I was less effective in what I was doing.

“It snuck up on me. It sort of happened before I realised it had happened, life just got in the way and it’s hard to get it back. I’ve been chipping at it, but it’s hard to get it back. I’m trying to enjoy that process of digging myself back up there.”

Rory McIlroy, the defending champion here, opened with a level-par 72. Francesco Molinari’s 69 in his first round with a full bag of new equipment included a hole-in-one at the 7th. Tommy Fleetwood matched his 2018 Ryder Cup sidekick’s score.

The Masters preparations of Jason Day have been affected by his latest back injury. Day lasted just six holes here on Thursday before withdrawing. “I aggravated it last Sunday and then got an MRI Monday which came back that I had an annular tear in my disc,” the Australian said.