x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Graeme McDowell not giving up just yet

No match in head-to-head with Martin Kaymer and the Northern Irishman admits German superiority but believes he has shot at Race to Dubai title.

Nerves got the better of Graeme McDowell yesterday, as form deserted the Northern Irishman when it mattered most at the Dubai World Championship on Earth Course.
Nerves got the better of Graeme McDowell yesterday, as form deserted the Northern Irishman when it mattered most at the Dubai World Championship on Earth Course.

DUBAI // While the Dubai World Championship was never going to be settled in the first 18 holes, the European Tour organisers would have feared that the early exchanges at the Earth Course yesterday could render the Race to Dubai an anti-climax.

And so it proved as Graeme McDowell struggled to recapture the nerveless form that helped him clinch the US Open and the Ryder Cup this year, buckling under the pressure of his head-to-head battle with Martin Kaymer at the top of the European money list.

More than €290,000 (Dh1.42 million) clear of his Northern Irish rival before play started at Jumeirah Golf Estates yesterday morning, Kaymer achieved what he set out to do: put himself in contention to win the tournament and take a significant, five-shot advantage over McDowell in their personal showdown.

McDowell, on the other hand, fell well short of his ambitions. His first priority was to get ahead of Kaymer and he failed dismally by suffering three bogeys on the way to a level-par 72.

That rendered his other objective of either winning this US$7.5m (Dh27.5m) showpiece or finishing in the top three and relying on Kaymer to come in among the also-rans, an unlikely scenario, bearing in mind that 24 of the 60 competitors here are better-placed than McDowell after the first round.

McDowell, who has worked hard to close the cash gap on Kaymer over the last month, finds himself starting among the backmarkers this morning, seven shots off the pace being set by Sweden's Robert Karlsson, who shot a 65.

"Obviously it was a tough day," said McDowell, who was three shots behind his playing partner after three holes. "Martin got out of the traps early and left me in the dust out there.

"But I certainly haven't shot myself in the foot just yet. I'm ready to go out there tomorrow and get myself back in the golf tournament."

Standing between Kaymer, who described this week as more important to him career-wise than the one when he won the US PGA Championship in August, and the leader Karlsson is the unlikely Korean figure of Noh Seung-yul. Jaidee Thongchai of Thailand is one stroke behind Kaymer, in fourth place.

Six players are tied for fifth, including the defending champion and world No 1 Lee Westwood, who cannot repeat last year's victory in the Race to Dubai but has every intention of making a successful defence to his Dubai World Championship title.

Westwood, whose earning potential has been restricted recently by a calf injury, has still managed to retain his tournament sharpness and lamented the fact that he did not turn his score of 69 into something much better.

"I'm disappointed with 16," he said of his only bogey, "but I have played only once in the last five weeks so it's pretty good that I'm coming out here and being competitive straight away."

Westwood will accompany the in-form Ian Poulter in today's second round. Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, who each showed glimpses of the form which has recently deserted them, are also bracketed together at 69, as are Charl Schwartzel, who had a hole-in-one at the sixth, and Alejandro Canizares.

wjohnson@thenational.ae