G-Mac hot, but Horne steals the show

Graeme McDowell had a solid start at the Wales Open today, but outsider Keith Horne stole the early show.

Defeding champion Graeme McDowell had a solid start in Thursday’s first round of the SAAB Wales Open, but South African outsider Keith Horne stole the show.

Horne is making his debut in the event and only arrived on Tuesday after playing in an “exhausting” 36 hole qualifier for the Open at Walton Heath on Moday and not making it, set the the early clubhouse target with a 7-under-par 64..

He came home in a brilliant five under 30 and denied television suggestions that his bunker shot on the driveable par-four 15th was a shank.

“It was a hard shot and it just went straight right, but it was not a shank,” said the 29-year-old from Durban, who did not turn professional until five years ago after a spell in the army and then four years at university studying labour law.

McDowell Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup hero from Northern Ireland returned to the scene of those triumphs keen to find form with his US Open Championship title defence only two weeks away now.

An eagle at the driveable 15th – his fifth – and then birdies at the sixth and seventh coming home gave him an early share of third place at 4-under 67 and provided a timely boost after missing the halfway cut in last week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club.

Swede Peter Hanson, McDowell’s playing partner and Ryder Cup teammate, finished his round with a 6-under 65 to be just one shot off the pace and two ahead of McDowell and Damiwn McGrage.

Hanson had four successive birdies from the 14th and then four more on the front nine, but there were also bogeys at the 13th and eighth.

McDowell said: “Overall I’m very happy with the way I played. I went a little cold with the putter in the middle, but I’m really flighting the ball correctly and can see my way round the course.

“It’s definitely been a good hunting ground for me and I’m hoping to continue that way. It’s good, it’s positive and I know I can go low here.”