McDowell leads at Zurich Classic

Graeme McDowell finished off a flawless round by one-hopping a wedge from 116 yards into the cup for eagle on the ninth hole.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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Graeme McDowell finished off a flawless round by one-hopping a wedge from 116 yards into the cup for eagle on the ninth hole. The shot gave him an 8-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Stuart Appleby at the Zurich Classic on Thursday. It took just that to keep Appleby from leading a US PGA Tour event for the fifth consecutive round. Coming off a victory last week in the Houston Open, the Australian again made it look easy by never coming seriously close to bogey and hitting a wedge into 4 feet for birdie on the 18th hole for a 65. And it took an eagle from McDowell to get a small measure of separation from a jam-packed leaderboard, brought on by soft, slow conditions on an English Turn club course that played so easy that McDowell found himself reaching for a wedge on nearly every hole. Among par-72 courses used by the US tour, the 7,116-yard (6,506-meter) English Turn is the third-shortest behind only the cleverly designed TPC at Sawgrass for The Players Championship and the course used for the BC Open. Rain affected Throw in heavy rain on Wednesday that made the greens soft, and wind that disappeared after the first few hours of a sunny morning, and this was a friendly day of golf. Ten players were in the group at 66, including two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, who made a late bogey with his best swing of the day, a 5-iron that cut through the breeze and went over the 17th green. The average score was about 70.5, and only 40 players in the 156-man field failed to shoot par or better. Masters champion Phil Mickelson, playing for the first time since slipping on his second green jacket two weeks ago, only made birdie on one of the par 5s but still managed to get around in 68 - still trailing 21 players. David Toms, a Louisiana native and a star in this area for his relief work involving Hurricane Katrina victims, opened with a 69. From the morning group, six players were tied at 66. That included Jeff Sluman, who realizes he belongs on the green grass of the US tour, not the bunny ski slopes of Sun Valley. Sluman went skiing for the first time - at age 48, no less - and was barely getting started down a beginner's slope when he fell sideways and injured ligaments in his left knee. Cause for concern Four weeks later, he was even more surprised to finish his round with six straight birdies. But not for long. Appleby, who joined Mickelson and Tiger Woods as the only multiple winners on tour this year with his victory in Houston, again was at peace with himself and his game. He birdied three straight holes early in his round, and only had cause for concern with one shot. He pulled his approach to the island green on the par-5 16th and was relieved to see a splash of sand when the ball found a bunker separated the green from the lake. The 26-year-old from Northern Ireland injured his back in a car accident outside Manchester, England last year. Then he decided to let his biomechanics trainer also work on his swing, and he started the year by missing every cut on the US PGA Tour - the exception was the Match Play Championship, where he lost in the first round - until last week at the Houston Open. But he recently returned to swing coach Claude Harmon, began to take control of his ball flight and felt his game on the rise. He played without a bogey and was comfortable with his position near the top of the leaderboard when his gap wedge on the ninth hole headed for the pin. (AP)