California: Graeme McDowell did not look like a man playing in his sixth consecutive event as he made the most of ideal company to surge into contention at the Chevron World Challenge on Thursday.
The US Open champion fired a six-under-par 66 in the opening round of the elite event, ending an unseasonably warm day at Sherwood Country Club level with good friend Rory McIlroy.
“It was just perfect scoring conditions,” McDowell told reporters after the pair finished one stroke behind pacesetting American Tiger Woods, the tournament host, in the 18-strong field.
“The greens here are unbelievable. You just have to get the ball rolling, and if it’s on line it’s going in.”
Although McDowell suffered from jet-lag earlier this week after a hectic tournament run through Spain, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, he flourished on Thursday after being paired with McIlroy.
“It was fun to play alongside Rory, one of my good mates,” the Northern Irishman said after recording five birdies, one eagle and a lone bogey at the last.
“He got off to a good start and I kind of fed off him a little bit. We birdied most holes out there between us.”
The mop-haired McIlroy birdied the first three holes and McDowell joined in with birdies of his own at the third, fifth, sixth and eighth.
By the time they had completed the back nine and signed their respective cards, the British duo were a collective 11-under for the day based on a best-ball format.
“We just kept making a lot of birdies,” said McDowell, who finished second here last year to ignite a 2010 season that featured three European Tour wins and a first major title.
“This is such a relaxed format ... a good bunch of people, great players and the golf course is wonderful. You couldn’t ask for better scoring conditions out there when it’s calm.”
Asked what another victory would mean to him to cap a golden 2010 campaign, McDowell replied: “It makes Christmas dinner taste a little better if you can finish strong. It’s been a long six weeks for me, a lot of travelling.”
Although Woods has struggled for form this year while coping with the break-up of his marriage following stunning revelations about his serial philandering, McDowell believes the tournament leader is now close to his best.
“Obviously the host, he’s in good form,” the affable Briton said. “He’s been looking like he’s starting to play well the last couple months since the Ryder Cup, really.”
Woods overwhelmed Italy’s Francesco Molinari 4&3 in their Ryder Cup singles match, covering his last seven holes in a sizzling seven under par.
“He looked ominously good, and it’s great to see him up there (on the leaderboard),” added McDowell, who secured the winning Ryder Cup point for Europe at Celtic Manor in October.
“He does great things for this tournament and we’ll be trying to catch him this weekend.”