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Green and McDowell share lead in the desert

Green and McDowell share lead in the desert

Graeme McDowell birdied his last three holes in tough conditions to join Gavin Green at the top of the leaderboard after day one of the 2020 Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.

Graeme McDowell

Malaysia's Green hit the first shot of the day off the first tee and for a long time it looked like his six under par 64 would not be caught as the wind got up in the afternoon at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.

But McDowell - raised playing the links of Northern Ireland and a winner of the U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links - excels in the breeze and he matched Green to share the lead.

McDowell's fellow Major Champion Henrik Stenson, another Swede in Sebastian Soderberg, Spaniard Adri Arnaus, Frenchman Victor Perez and Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas were a shot off the lead.

It is nearly six years since McDowell claimed the latest of his ten European Tour wins and he has recorded just eight top tens since winning a second Open de France title in 2014.

He has had two worldwide victories in that time, however, including one last season, and showed all the class that made him a Major Championship winner in his first 18 holes.

"It was nice to get out of there with six under par because I felt like I played great today," he said. "It would have been a horrible round to let get away but to finish birdie-birdie-birdie was nice.

"Playing well in these conditions is really just about trying to stay patient. Hang tough, hit fairways, hit greens and obviously being a good putter helps as well - be able to clean up any mistakes you make."

Green earned his place on the European Tour by winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2017 and has been a picture of consistency ever since, taking his tally of top tens to six.

After three top 30 finishes on the 2020 Race to Dubai so far, he was once again showing his quality as he looks for a first European Tour win.

"Lots of fairways, lots of greens, and as few putts as possible," he said. "I made some good putts, good shots, and I played the hard holes well.

"A couple of pretty big par saves and a couple of mistakes, a couple of three putts, which was tough to take in because I was playing well and I was playing solid. It's the nature of the game. You just have to live with it and move on and that's what we did."

Green got off to a flying start, turning in 30 with birdies on the first, fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth.

Another gain on the tenth made it a hat-trick but bogeys on the 12th and 14th brought him back towards the pack.

A wonderful tee shot to two feet on the par three 16th got him back on track and when he put an approach to eight feet on the 17th, he led by two.

McDowell was the first of the starters in the tougher conditions to make a move, registering four birdies in a row from the second to turn in 31.

A double bogey on the 11th threatened to derail his progress but he hit back on the next before hitting a stunning tee shot into the par three 16th, putting his approach to five feet on the 17th and making a two putt birdie on the par five last.

Perez, Soderberg, Stenson and Vegas all dropped a single shot in their rounds of 65, while Arnaus bounced back from back-to-back bogeys by playing his second nine in 30 after starting on the tenth.

Phil Mickelson recorded the first 29 of his European Tour career on the back nine as the five time Major Champion got to four under alongside Kiwi Ryan Fox and English quartet Ross Fisher, Tom Lewis, Aaron Rai and Andy Sullivan.

Defending champion Dustin Johnson and last week's winner Lucas Herbert were in the group three shots off the lead.

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