Graeme McDowell In Control At World Golf Challenge

By Les Bailey
Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell is desperately trying to end a two-year absence from the winner circle as he takes the lead into the final round at the World Golf Challenge Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Sunday afternoon. Tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods is tied for third place, five shots off of the pace. McDowell has been winless on both the European and PGA Tours since beating Woods in a playoff  here at Sherwood Country Club to end the 2010 season.

On a day that was more suited for hunting ducks than playing golf, the 33-year- old 2010 US Open Champion from Portrush, Northern Ireland, fired a bogey free 68 on Saturday afternoon to hold off a hard charging Keegan Bradley by two strokes. After three birdies on the front and making the turn at 33, McDowell looked to run away on the back nine, but could only manage one more birdie at the 11th hole. He had opportunities at the par 5, 13th and 16th holes, but couldn’t get his usually reliable putter to cooperate, and would have to settle for pars.

Bradley, on the other hand, shot a -5 under 67, and gained one stroke on the lead. After a bogey at the 9th hole, Bradley immediately birdied 10 and 11 and the par 5, 16th hole to card a 33 on the back nine. He hit an absolute laser into the 18th green, but could not convert the birdie to get within one stroke of the leader. After all of the talk this week about the anchored putter that has put the 2011 PGA Champion directly in the cross-hairs of conversation on the matter, with 2012 US Open champ Webb Simpson, Bradley has the look of a man on mission who wants to put a win at Tiger’s tournament on his resume. It should be an interesting match-up Sunday afternoon as the two Ryder Cup stars tee off in the final group.

Lurking in third place, only five strokes back, and tied with Bo Van Pelt, is the defending champion. I wouldn’t count the host out quite yet. Woods has been known to make up a five-shot deficit quickly if he gets off to a good start on Sunday. After making the turn at even par, the worlds’ number three player went on a birdie hunt on the back nine. He put back to back birdies together at 14 and 15, and added one at the difficult par 3 17th hole to card a -3 under 69. He has won this tournament five times, so I wouldn’t count him out.

Masters champ Bubba Watson matched Bradley’s 67 for the best rounds of the day. Bubba made a run, but after opening rounds of 71 and 74, and probably is a little too far back at four under par to make a run at McDowell. Rickie Fowler followed his 67 on Friday with a -2 under par 70 on Saturday, and is at -6 total, seven strokes back. Jim Furyk repeated his Ryder Cup effort and couldn’t catch any magic with the putter. He shot a -1 under 71 to stay on the leaderboard in fifth position.

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