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G-Mac hits his stride at Sawgrass
McDowell three shots off the overnight lead held by Nick Watney at The Players Championship.

A RESURGENT GRAEME MCDOWELL put the torrid form of the last few weeks behind him yesterday, shooting a crowd-pleasing 67 on the opening day of The Players Championship in Sawgrass.

The Northern Irishman’s round of five-under par was good enough for a tie of fifth place, three shots off the clubhouse lead held by Nick Watney.

On arriving in Ponte Vedra Beach earlier this week, last year’s US Open champion told reporters that his recent string of poor performances had been quite demoralising, encouraging him to dedicate some time working on his swing with coach Pete Cowan.

“I’ve been playing some pretty dismal golf the last three or four weeks,” he said. “New Orleans especially was awful. New Orleans was the straw that broke the camel’s back, really. I knew I couldn’t continue swinging it the way I was swinging it and I had to do something about it.”

Almost immediately, McDowell began to reap the rewards of his labour yesterday, opening his round with successive birdies at the 10th and 11th holes.

A steady stream of pars began to flow thereafter before the Portrush native attacked the par-five 16th hole with gusto, hammering his second shot to within six feet of the pin before holing out for an eagle.

A bogey at the par-three 3rd proved to be the only black spot on an otherwise impressive day, with two more birdies following after the turn including a stunning sand save from the greenside bunker at the sixth which seemed to surprise even McDowell himself.

“That’s a great way to start the week,” the 31-year-old told after yesterday’s 67.

“I hit some good shots today and made some good swings. Like I say, I haven’t really been seeing that lately so it’s good to see.”

I’m not trying to say I was expecting to do great things this weekend. I felt like I was on the beginning of — I felt like I was back on the right path again, and I was just coming here this week to try to really start things off, start the summer going, start off on the right foot and get a clear mind and get patient again.

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The day wasn’t quite as enjoyable for the only other Irishman in the field, Padraig Harrington. After shooting two-under par on the front nine, the Dubliner’s round collapsed soon afterwards with successive sixes at the 11th and 12th holes. He finished the day in a tie for 82nd on one-over par.

Somewhat overshadowing Watney’s glorious opening-day 64, the main talking point on day one in Florida was the withdrawal of Tiger Woods. The 14-time Major winner was forced to abandon his round on six-over par after nine holes due to a recurrence of a knee injury.