McDowell Starts Wales Open Defence in Style

McDowell continues great relationship with Celtic Manor with opening 67

Graeme McDowell returned to the scene of two great successes to start the defence of his Wales Open title with a four-under-par 67 at Celtic Manor here on Thursday.

Last year the course saw Northern Ireland's McDowell, as well as winning the Wales Open, hole the winning putt that gave the European team a Ryder Cup victory over the United States.

McDowell goes into the second round in a share for sixth place, three shots off pacesetter Keith Horne.

After his opening 64 the South African leads by one shot from McDowell's Ryder Cup teammate Peter Hanson of Sweden with Steve Webster, Alvaro Velasco and Paul Broadhurst a further shot back in third.

Hanson had eight birdies to Horne's seven, but there were also bogeys at the 13th and eighth on his card.

Horne, 289th in the world, did not turn professional until he was 25 and it was only last year that the Durban golfer, 40 next week, kept his European Tour card.

Ross Fisher and Miguel Angel Jimenez are the other two members of last year's European Ryder Cup side taking part.

Fisher, who on Sunday week needs to be back in the world's top 50 from his current 52nd if he is to play in the US Open had a level par 71, but Jimenez managed only a 73.

The Spaniard was paired with captain Colin Montgomerie, but four days after his first top-10 finish for almost three years - seventh in the BMW PGA Championship - the 47-year-old Scot was twice in the water over the closing stretch and signed for a 77.

McDowell missed the cut at last week's PGA Championship in Wentworth, England, but returning to a happy hunting ground proved a tonic for the Ulsterman, who in a fortnight defends his US Open title.

He holed an eagle at the 15th -- the fifth hole of his round -- before birdies at the sixth and the seventh.

It left McDowell in joint-third spot, behind early leader Keith Horne of South Africa, who shot a seven-under 64.

"Overall I'm very happy with the way I played," McDowell said. "I went a little cold with the putter in the middle, but I'm really flighting the ball correctly and can see my way around the course.

"It's definitely been a good hunting ground for me and I'm hoping to continue that. It's good, it's positive and I know I can go low here."

Leading scores of the first round of the Wales Open at Celtic Manor here on Thursday (GBR & IRL unless stated, par 71)

64 - Keith Horne (RSA)

65 - Peter Hanson (SWE)

66 - Steve Webster, Alvaro Velasco (ESP), Paul Broadhurst

67 - Damien McGrane, Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson (FRA), Gregory Bourdy (FRA), Stuart Manley, Alexander Noren (SWE)

68 - Jeev Milkha Singh (IND), Daniel Gaunt (AUS), Darren Clarke, Johan Edfors (SWE), Simon Khan, Graeme Storm, Felipe Aguilar (CHI), Romain Wattel (FRA), Jamie Donaldson, Barry Lane

69 - Richard Bland, Christian Cevaer (FRA), Mikko Ilonen (FIN), Mark Tullo (CHI), Richard McEvoy, Scott Strange (AUS), Marcel Siem (GER), Oscar Floren (SWE), Anthony Kang (USA), Robert Rock, Thomas Bjorn (DEN), Richard Finch, Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR), Oskar Henningsson (SWE), Mark Foster

70 - Richie Ramsay, Anders Hansen (DEN), Ross Fisher, Peter Whiteford, Robert Coles, Soren Hansen (DEN), Phillip Price, Rafael Echenique (ARG), Danny Lee (NZL), Andrew Dodt (AUS), Mark Brown (NZL), Pablo Larrazabal (ESP), Anthony Wall, Michael Jonzon (SWE), Richard Green (AUS), Wade Ormsby (AUS), Gregory Havret (FRA)


71 - Matthew Zions (AUS), Peter O'Malley (AUS)

72 - Jaco Van Zyl (RSA), Hennie Otto (RSA), Raphael Jacquelin (FRA), Thomas Levet (FRA)

73 - James Kingston (RSA), Shiv Kapur (IND), Shiv Shankar Prasad Chowrasia (IND), Brett Rumford (AUS), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP)

74 - Jason Knutzon (USA), Simon Edwards (USA)

75 - George Coetzee (RSA)

76 - Michael Campbell (NZL), Thongchai Jaidee (THA), Marcus Fraser (AUS),

77 - John Daly (USA), Shaun Norris (RSA)

78 - Colin Montgomerie, Niclas Fasth (SWE)