• Open de France

McDowell makes steady start to title defence

ESPN staff
July 3, 2014
Defending champion Graeme McDowell and recent US Open winner Martin Kaymer drew the crowds on day one © Getty Images

Graeme McDowell has a lot of ground to make up if he is to retain his Open de France title at Le Golf National.

McDowell carded a solitary birdie on the front nine with a two at the par-3 second, before adding another at 12. But back-to-back bogeys at the next two holes saw him fall back to level before another gain at 16 ensure the Northern Irishman was one of just 30 players to finish under par on day one.

"I felt like I controlled the ball well for most of the day but left a few putts out there," he said. "It's a solid start and I'm looking forward to getting back out there."

McDowell headlines an 18-strong crowd at one-under, which also includes fellow Britons Matt Baldwin, David Horsey, Lee Slattery and Matt Ford. They are six back from American Kevin Stadler, who carded a flawless seven-under-par round of 64 to lead by a single stroke.

Stadler, who after 12 years as a professional finally broke his PGA Tour duck at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, rolled home birdies at two, three and six before four further gains in four of his first five holes after the turn.

Stadler is just one ahead of 2012 champion Marcel Siem as the German made a fine start in his bid to reclaim the title at Le Golf National, which will host the Ryder Cup in 2018.

Eight birdies, including three in a row from the sixth, were offset by bogeys at two and 18, and he revealed it was a bit of a struggle to get round following the birth of his second child last week.

"I was really tired," he admitted. "I can't wait to go to bed. I said that to my caddie on the third hole, I need to get my batteries loaded up."

Trailing by a further shot at five-under par is Ryder Cup hopeful Stephen Gallacher. But it could have been so different for the Scot, who finished with two bogeys in his final three holes having reached seven-under and looking good to challenge the course-record 62.

Gallacher is currently outside the automatic qualifying places for September's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, which is just half an hour from his Linlithgow home.

He will not get a chance to impress European captain Paul McGinley in person after the Irishman pulled out with a shoulder problem, but Gallacher admitted it is not really on his mind.

"The thing I have to try to do is play my golf and not think about it really," he said. "I'm trying not to be too outcome-orientated, just think of what I'm doing on the course and hopefully it's good enough."

Wales' Jamie Donaldson carded a four-under round of 67 that included a run of four straight birdies from the 12 th to tie for fourth place with Chilean Felipe Aguilar.

Englishmen Matt Fitzpatrick, Mark Foster and Oliver Fisher, as well as Scots Marc Warren and Scott Jamieson are at two-under, along with home favourite Alexander Levy.

McDowell's playing partner and recent US Open champion Martin Kaymer, who missed the cut in his home town last week, started with a one-over round of 72.

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