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Friday, 17 May 2013
Graeme McDowell   (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)

A second dominant victory in succession saw Graeme McDowell qualify for the last-16 of the Volvo World Match Play Championship with maximum points, as the top seed sent a clear message to his title rivals heading into the weekend in Bulgaria.

All the talk heading into the week was of the stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort in Kavarna and its favourable comparisons with the revered Californian layout, Pebble Beach.

It was on that rugged pacific coastline course that McDowell of course claimed his maiden Major triumph at The 2010 US Open Championship, and after seeing off Stephen Gallacher 4&2 to move into the knockout stages of the tournament he admitted that the Gary Player gem was well matched to his game.

“There are a few tight tee shots but it really suits my ball shape; it suits the fade,” said McDowell, who also overcame Chris Wood 5&3 on Thursday to top the Seve Ballesteros Group with four points. 

“You can aim away from trouble.  And the on the way in, the fairways are tilted so much from right to left you actually want to hit a cut against them.

“It suits my ball flight I have to say, it's my kind of golf course. Hopefully I can keep doing what I'm doing and give myself a chance this weekend.”

As is well documented, McDowell grew up and learned his trade on the links at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland so the 33 year old is very much at home on courses such as Thracian Cliffs, perched spectacularly over the Black Sea along the Cape Kaliakra in Bulgaria.

After his victory against Wood on Thursday, McDowell commented: “It's very fiery, very linksy. It's stunning to look at it; it's tricky; it's funky in places, but you've got to get on with it and if you hit good shots and place the ball well, you get rewarded.”

With winds gusting up to 25 miles per hour on Friday afternoon, the 18-hole signature course certainly needed some careful management and McDowell again embraced his favourite tag to handle the challenge with aplomb, moving four up through seven holes thanks to birdies at the first, third, fifth and seventh holes.

Gallacher, though, reduced the deficit to one with three hole victories in succession from the ninth but McDowell rallied again with wins at the 14th and 15th and a concession from the Scot at the following hole brought handshakes as The Ryder Cup star marched into the next round in Kavarna.

“It was a good game,” McDowell continued.  “I got off to a fast start, played beautiful the first eight holes and kind of started getting in a little trouble which you can do around this golf course. I hit two bad tee shots and all of a sudden Stephen wins three on the spin and it's back to grinding again.

“Stephen returned the favour with a couple bad tee shots of his own coming in and thankfully made my job a little easier.
 
“It's a tough one.  He's out there fighting for his life; a halve match will do me, but you want to put the game away.
 
“These group stages can be kind of a little bit banana skins and you sort of knuckle down and get through and get into the real stuff this weekend.”

McDowell, the runner-up at this event in 2012 when Nicolas Colsaerts prevailed, also spoke of his relief at closing out his opening group ties in relatively concise fashion.

“You certainly want to conserve energy,” he reflected. “You want to get into the weekend first and foremost but you want to be trying to stay fresh.  This golf course is reasonably demanding physically but we are getting lots of cart rides out there so it’s not too bad. 

“There are 36 holes a day for the next two days if you want to go all the way and you have to take that into account. I'll sleep well tonight and hopefully be ready for a big day tomorrow.”

American Bo Van Pelt awaits in the last-16 for McDowell in the final tie out on Saturday morning and the man who conquered Pebble Beach in 2010 will no doubt arrive steely-eyed and focussed, as he continues his bid to triumph on its European little brother on Sunday afternoon.

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