(Reuters) - Graeme McDowell birdied his final three holes in difficult conditions to grab a share of the lead alongside Gavin Green after the opening round of the Saudi International in King Abdullah Economic City on Thursday.
Malaysia’s Green teed off in the first group of the day and he took advantage of perfect scoring conditions, turning in 30 with five birdies.
Green finished with six-under-par 64 and for a long time it looked like his score would not be matched, with the wind whipping up in the afternoon at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club.
Yet McDowell displayed his ability to grind out scores as he recovered from a double bogey on the 11th with four birdies on the back nine.
“It was nice to get out of there with six-under 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.”
McDowell and Green finished a shot clear of Swedish duo Henrik Stenson and Sebastian Soderberg, Spaniard Adri Arnaus, Frenchman Victor Perez and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas.
After making the turn at two-over, Phil Mickelson surged up the leaderboard with seven birdies and a bogey on the back nine as he got to four-under alongside New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, and English quartet Ross Fisher, Tom Lewis, Aaron Rai and Andy Sullivan.
Nicknamed ‘Phil the Thrill’, Mickelson raised his game up a notch with the shot of the day on the par-three 11th as his tee shot clipped the flagstick before settling a couple of feet away for a birdie.
“It was certainly evident early in the round where I made a couple of shots that weren’t that hard that I made difficult,” five-times major winner Mickelson said.
“But the back nine, things really started to come together.”
Defending champion Dustin Johnson and Lucas Herbert, who won the Dubai Desert Classic last weekend, were in the group three shots off the lead.
World number one Brooks Koepka birdied the par-five 18th to card a level-par 70, while Open champion Shane Lowry bogeyed the same hole to finish five shots off the off the pace on one-under.
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis