Graeme McDowell was left content after a whirlwind first day at the US PGA Championship, as the Northern Irishman made seven birdies and three bogeys en route to a four under par 68 at Kiawah Island.
Playing in the more testing afternoon conditions in South Carolina when the wind was at its strongest, the 2010 US Open Champion made three birdies and two bogeys over the first nine holes to reach the turn one under par, before more peaks and troughs coming home in the form of a birdie-bogey-birdie start to the back nine.
McDowell then made a superb up-and-down on the par three 14th after dragging his tee shot left of the green, a par save that he credited with “kick starting” a final few holes in which he made birdies at the 15th and long 16th and put himself in position for further makeable birdie opportunities at the closing two holes.
With his 68 leaving him just two shots shy of first round leader Carl Pettersson, the Northern Irishman was pleased to get a good start on the Ocean Course.
“It was a good round of golf, obviously,” said McDowell. “Apart from a couple of sloppy sixes that I made out there I am generally very happy with my ball striking today.
“I hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of solid iron shots and in this strengthening breeze as the afternoon went on there was still a score out there if you could control the ball well. I’m very happy with that, it’s a good start.”
Indeed, while it was almost a flat calm when play got underway at 0720 on Thursday morning, there were not insignificant gusts to contend with for the later starters.
“I know the guys got nine fairly calm holes this morning, but the breeze came up this afternoon and even though it made it a decent test the golf course remained fairly playable,” said McDowell.
“Hopefully we can get out there tomorrow morning and perhaps we can play it in slightly more benign conditions.”
Pete Dye-designed golf courses are known for their quirkiness and unique challenges, and McDowell enjoyed figuring out the Ocean Course’s 7,676-yard layout on day one of the season’s final Major.
He reflected: “The golf course is fairly receptive, so if you can drive the ball well it gives you a chance to be fairly aggressive with your iron shots. And I really was good on the greens today, I read them well.
“I think one of the secrets to playing this golf course is being aggressive with the par fives and playing the par threes well. There really is a nice balance of par fours too, some tough ones and some easy ones, but the threes and the fives are key.”
Having been there and done that before so memorably at the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach in 2010, McDowell is well-placed to muse on what counts in the opening rounds of the four Majors.
“You know, in these Major Championships, there's no doubt getting in contention early and getting the juices flowing is key, so it’s nice to have had a solid start.”