Perhaps it was no coincidence that Graeme McDowell finally had a good night of sleep and then put together the best round at Sherwood Country Club, giving him a three-shot lead going into the weekend.
Two weeks in China. A five-day holiday in Dubai. A tournament in Australia. Back to Dubai. One night at his new house in Florida. Then on to California.
One reason McDowell feels so relaxed against an 18-man field at the World Challenge is that he can see the finish line.
“Looking forward to hanging the clubs up for a few weeks for sure,” he said.
Suddenly, there is a little bit of work left for him. He birdied the opening three holes Friday and finished strong for a 6-under 66, giving him a three-shot lead over Bo Van Pelt (68), Keegan Bradley (69) and Jim Furyk (69). Tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods had a 69 and was four shots behind.
McDowell has done a lot right this year, except for win. He now has one last chance to fix that.
He played in the final group in back-to-back majors, the U.S. Open and British Open, without winning. He was on the winning Ryder Cup team again, only he concedes his game wasn’t there and he earned only one point.
“I would love to compete and play well this weekend, really to kind of put a little icing on what’s been a mediocre year,” McDowell said. “Despite the fact that I feel like I’ve played some decent golf this year, I really don’t have a lot to show for myself, and this would be a nice way to finish.”
McDowell was at 9-under 135.
Even though McDowell’s win at Sherwood in 2010 capped a dream season — his U.S. Open title, the clinching point at the Ryder Cup — it was a runner-up finish in 2009 that set up all those spoils. He was a last-minute replacement for Woods, who didn’t play as his personal life unraveled, and McDowell finished second. It was the first year the tournament received ranking points, and McDowell earned enough to get into the Masters and eventually the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he won.
That U.S. Open title assured him of being in the Ryder Cup, where he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole that carried Europe to a big win.
“Sometimes the stars align,” he said.
His 66 gave him a cushion going into the weekend, but light rain overnight and for much of the day made the course soft and vulnerable. McDowell said the greens could only be rolled, not cut, making them substantially slower. That attributed to so many good scores, with half of the field in the 60s.
McDowell believes there’s a 63 or 64 out there for someone, especially in these conditions, so his three-shot lead doesn’t seem like much only halfway through the event.