PARIS – Graeme McDowell looks set to keep his promise of giving European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn a hard time with his four wildcard picks and backroom staff for this year’s matches at Le Golf National, venue for this week’s $7 million HNA French Open.
McDowell, winner of the 2013 and ’14 French Opens, returned an opening 3-under 68 to get into contention early in the first round.
The Northern Irishman was announced as one Bjorn’s vice captains along with Robert Karlsson, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood during the BMW PGA Championship in May. The appointment raised eyebrows because, at age 38, the four-time Ryder Cup player was always an outset bet to make this year’s European team.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion told Golfweek on that occasion he intended to give Bjorn “a positive problem.”
“There’s a big run of tournaments coming up and it’s very doable,” McDowell said. “I’m playing better than I was this time two years ago. I’d love to give Thomas a problem, a positive problem. It’s certainly not reducing my effort level in any shape or form.”
That was certainly obvious from his opening display in Paris. McDowell got to 4 under at one point only to drop a couple of shots late in his back nine. He was one shot behind Welshman Bradley Dredge in a tie for second place when he signed his card.
“Obviously I would love to post a big finish this week and try to get myself back on the edge of that (Ryder Cup) radar,” McDowell said. “It’s going to take some golf for me over the summer to be back on the radar, but if I could be on the edge of the radar somewhere, that would be nice. I still have an ambition to play on the team.”
He’ll be on the radar if he goes on to win a third French Open, which is a very real possibility.
“This place plays to my type of game, which is good iron play and strong putting,” McDowell said. “It’s nice to come back and play well. The game’s been trending the right direction.”
Rest assured, Bjorn is watching McDowell’s progress with interest.