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McDowell: Pinehurst 'bordered on the unenjoyable'

ESPN staff
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Graeme McDowell is two shots off the lead heading into the weekend © Getty Images
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Precisely four years to the day after winning his maiden major, Graeme McDowell put himself well in contention for a first ever victory at his national championship - the Irish Open.

McDowell made his debut in this tournament at Fota Island, this week's host course, in 2002, and has never finished in the top 10, but opening rounds of 68 and 66 see the 34-year-old move onto eight-under to trail leader Mikko Ilonen by two shots.

And McDowell, who finished in a share for 28th at Pinehurst last week, said the Irish Open "brings its own pressure".

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Rory McIlroy struggled in the first two rounds © Getty Images
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He added: "It's the proverbial walk in the park compared to last week, which bordered on the unenjoyable.

"I'm more relaxed, trying to free myself up and enjoy my golf.

"I was a little sharper this morning, legs felt fresher. I missed two fairways, my iron play was better and I putted well."

Starting at 10, McDowell holed a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-3 13th, but gave the shot back immediately at 14. He did not have to wait long to get back under par for the day, with another birdie at 15.

Three straight birdies from the second were followed by a further gain at six.

He added: "Eight under is a nice total and although I don't expect it to be leading at the end of the day it doesn't have to. I am just excited to be in contention."

Robert Rock is also on eight-under. Rock has a rich history in this event. He lost in a play-off to Shane Lowry at County Louth in 2009, but claimed the €500,000 first prize as Lowry was still an amateur, before finishing fifth in 2006 and runner-up to Paul Casey last year.

"It's a tournament I like playing, but I think it's more the time of year," Rock told EuropeanTour.com.

Rock, who held off Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to win the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2012, added: "I enjoy the tournaments at the start of the year, but when we travel further afield I don't play well and it batters your confidence.

"It takes time to rebuild that and it seems to be this time of year it comes back."

Defending champion Casey bogeyed his last three holes and had to settle for a second consecutive 69. Ilonen, who topped the leaderboard after the first round, retained his position heading into the weekend after carding a three-under 69 to move onto 10-under for the tournament.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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