Graeme McDowell credits ‘Phil the Thrill’ as he takes share of lead in Saudi Arabia

Fast start and hot finish adds up to six-under 64 for Northern Ireland star

Graeme McDowell drew inspiration from a typically entertaining performance from playing partner Phil Mickelson to claim a share of the lead in the Saudi International.

McDowell birdied four holes in a row from the second and recovered from a double-bogey on the 11th with four more to card a six-under-par 64 and join Malaysia’s Gavin Green at the top of the leaderboard.

Henrik Stenson, Sebastian Soderberg, Adri Arnaus, Victor Perez and Jhonattan Vegas are a shot off the lead after rounds of 65, with Mickelson part of a six-strong group a shot further back after an adventurous 66.

McDowell told Sky Sports: “It feels good. I got off to a fast start which was huge before the wind got up. You know it’s going to blow in the afternoons and it was nice to get out of there with six under par because I felt like I played great today.


“It would have been a horrible round to let get away but to finish birdie, birdie, birdie was nice – just feeding off Phil there who had seven birdies on the back nine.

“It was ‘Phil the Thrill’ there, it was fun to watch and fun to play with him.”

Mickelson, who has slipped to 86th in the world rankings, was two over par at the turn but carded seven birdies and a bogey in a back nine of 29. The five-time Major winner made just one par from the eighth hole onwards and five in total.

“It was a rough first nine in that I get a little anxious because I know that I’m playing well and then I start to not really focus and see and visualise the shot that I want and some negative thoughts creep in,” Mickelson said.

“I did a much better job throughout the round of regaining control and started to see what I wanted the ball to do rather than what I didn’t and in the back nine it really started to come together.

“The patience paid off, of fighting to stay in there, and then all of a sudden it started to click and I made a bunch of birdies.”

Mickelson will be eligible for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in June, but appears intent on competing on the European Tour and PGA Tour for as long as possible.

“The older I get the more I appreciate what I get to do for a living,” the left-hander added. “I love the challenge to continue to try to play golf at the highest level because I believe it’s possible.

“I believe if you take care of yourself, work out properly, you eat well, physically recover and do the right things at night I think you can continue to play at a very high level and that’s a fun challenge for me to try to attain.”

World number one Brooks Koepka birdied the par-five 18th to card a level-par 72, while British Open champion Shane Lowry made six on the same hole after his approach came to rest in rocks on the edge of a water hazard.

Lowry played the ball from the rocks but saw it roll back into the water and did well to salvage a bogey which left him five shots off the pace on one under.

Cormac Sharvin carded six bogeys and just a single birdie in his opening five-over 75.

Britain and Ireland unless stated, par 70, (a) denotes amateur

64 Graeme McDowell, Gavin Green (Mal)

65 Adri Arnaus (Esp), Sebastian Soderberg (Swe), Victor Perez (Fra), Jhonattan Vegas (Ven), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

66 Phil Mickelson (USA), Andy Sullivan, Ross Fisher, Ryan Fox (Nzl), Tom Lewis, Aaron Rai

67 Marcus Kinhult (Swe), Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Dustin Johnson (USA), Lucas Herbert (Aus), Joost Luiten (Ned), Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez (Esp), Francesco Laporta (Ita)

68 Justin Harding (Rsa), Adrian Meronk (Pol), Matthieu Pavon (Fra), David Howell, Alexander Bjork (Swe), Renato Paratore (Ita), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind), Jazz Janewattananond (Tha), Scott Hend (Aus), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa), Fabrizio Zanotti (Pry), Sean Crocker (USA)

69 Richard Bland, Richard McEvoy, Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel), James Morrison, Pablo Larrazabal (Esp), Matthias Schwab (Aut), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Abraham Ancer (Mex), Jeff Winther (Den), Sergio Garcia (Esp), Shane Lowry, Connor Syme, Adrian Otaegui (Esp), Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Alexander Levy (Fra)

70 Matt Wallace, Richie Ramsay, Maximilian Kieffer (Ger), Sebastian Heisele (Ger), Guido Migliozzi (Ita), Jack Singh Brar, Chris Paisley, Raphael Jacquelin (Fra), Brooks Koepka (USA), Haotong Li (Chn), Maverick Antcliff (Aus), Sam Horsfield, Stephen Gallacher, Rasmus Hojgaard (Den), Lee Westwood, Thomas Pieters (Bel)

71 Steven Brown, Ashun Wu (Chn), Mikko Korhonen (Fin), Robert Rock, Dean Burmester (Rsa), Darius Van Driel (Ned), Calum Hill, Jack Senior, Benjamin Hebert (Fra), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa), Edoardo Molinari (Ita), Romain Langasque (Fra), Matthew Southgate, Andrea Pavan (Ita), Jamie Donaldson, Jordan Smith, Justin Walters (Rsa)

72 Kalle Samooja (Fin), Haydn Porteous (Rsa), Paul Waring, Zander Lombard (Rsa), Alvaro Quiros (Esp), Ernie Els (Rsa), Antoine Rozner (Fra), Ian Poulter, Robert Macintyre, Nacho Elvira (Esp), David Micheluzzi (Aus), Akshay Bhatia (USA), Nino Bertasio (Ita)

73 Thomas Aiken (Rsa), Matthew Jordan, Jorge Campillo (Esp), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Grant Forrest, Oliver Fisher, Scott Jamieson, Tapio Pulkkanen (Fin), Thomas Bjorn (Den), Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn), Thomas Detry (Bel), Patrick Reed (USA), Ashley Chesters, David Drysdale, Jeunghun Wang (Kor), Lorenzo Gagli (Ita), Oliver Farr

74 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Benjamin Poke (Den), David Horsey, Sebastian Crampton (USA), Joachim B. Hansen (Den), Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind), Ricardo Santos (Por), Min Woo Lee (Aus)

75 Cormac Sharvin, David Law, Othman Almulla (Sau), Ahmed Marjan (Mor), Oliver Wilson, Joakim Lagergren (Swe), Julien Guerrier (Fra), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)

76 Wade Ormsby (Aus)

78 Brandon Stone (Rsa)

79 Jamie Elson, Callum Shinkwin

82 Saud Al Sharif (a) (Sau), Faisal Salhab (a) (Sau)