THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Graeme McDowell has done a lot right this year, except for win. He now has one last chance to fix that.
Back on the course that has provided two key moments in his career, McDowell opened with three straight birdies Friday and finished strong for a 6-under 66, giving him a three-shot lead going into the weekend at the World Challenge.
“A good day’s work,” said McDowell, whose day was not over until he was escorted away for a drug test.
Bo Van Pelt got up-and-down from the drop zone for bogey on the final hole that gave him a 68, leaving him tied for second with Keegan Bradley and Jim Furyk, who each had a 69. Tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods was tied for the lead on the back nine until he stalled and settled for a 69. He was four shots behind.
This is the final destination of a whirlwind trip for McDowell, who spent two weeks in China, a short holiday in Dubai, a tournament in Australia, back to Dubai and then across eight time zones to California.
It’s also been somewhat of a whirlwind year, filled with opportunity, but no trophies.
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.
McDowell always feels relaxed at Sherwood Country Club, with an 18-man field and no cut and the finish line clearly in his sights. Suddenly, though, he has something at stake. The World Challenge doesn’t belong to any tour. It offers world ranking points, though he isn’t in dire need of them. But there’s a trophy, and McDowell hasn’t hoisted one of those since that birdie-birdie finish to beat Woods in a playoff at Sherwood in 2010.