ASH England (Reuters) - Graeme McDowell’s putter resembled a magic wand as he began his Volvo World Match Play title defense by dispatching Alexander Levy of France 3 & 2 in his opening round-robin group match on Wednesday.
Levy, who triumphed at the rain-shortened Portugal Masters last week, was two-under for his round but could not cope with a turbo-charged performance from McDowell who ignored the sopping wet conditions by rattling in seven birdies in 16 holes.
Elsewhere, world number five Henrik Stenson finished all square with South African George Coetzee while Frenchman Victor Dubuisson eased past Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal 3 & 2 and Swede Jonas Blixt defeated American Patrick Reed 2 & 1.
Shane Lowry notched seven birdies to beat Stephen Gallacher 3 & 2 and Paul Casey edged Jamie Donaldson 2 & 1. Thongchai Jaidee was a two-up winner over Francesco Molinari while Joost Luiten squeezed past Mikko Ilonen one-up in a high-quality tussle featuring 12 birdies and one eagle.
McDowell, who eclipsed Thongchai 2 & 1 in last year’s final in Bulgaria, said he was particularly pleased with his form on the greens against Levy.
“Alexander is a very good young player but didn’t make as many putts as I did,” the world number 18 told reporters at the 50th anniversary edition of the tournament.
“These greens are outstanding considering how much rain this course has taken. The surfaces here are as good as any you will see — generally if you hit a good putt it will go in.”
The 35-year-old Northern Irishman, a member of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team last month, gave an emphatic fist-pump salute after sinking a 15-foot putt at the 15th to effectively extinguish Levy’s challenge on the rolling hills of the Kent countryside.
“The fewer holes you can play here the better,” said McDowell. “This course, although they are giving us a few buggy rides here and there, is a long walking course physically.
“It’s going to be a long week and hopefully I’ll have a good reason to be nice and tired on Sunday evening.”
Coetzee, a late replacement for injured European Ryder Cup player Thomas Bjorn, was delighted to finish all square with Swede Stenson in the only match that did not contain a bogey.
“I’m a bit of a dark horse I guess,” said Coetzee. “I was going to go home to South Africa to play a Sunshine Tour event but when I got the call to come here I was excited.
“It’s nice to be here and I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Casey, the only Englishman in the field, said he played “some wonderful stuff” against European Ryder Cup hero Donaldson.
“I feel great after that,” added the 2006 World Match Play champion. “It was always going to be an extremely difficult match.
“Jamie’s probably fatigued coming off the back of all the golf he’s played recently but ... I’m very happy with my game. That was certainly some of the best stuff I’ve played this year in terms of ball striking.”
The top two in each of the four groups go through to the quarter-finals on Saturday.
Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar