McDowell, paired with Ryder Cup hero Colin Montgomerie from Scotland, fired a five under par 67 over the Duke’s Course along with Australian Nick O’Hern and Jose Manuel Lara from Spain.
They lead the field by a stroke while Europe’s Ryder Cup stars showed they were still in the process of recharging their batteries after the exertions of last week. Montgomerie eagled the last for a 71 along with Englishman David Howell while Ireland’s Padraig Harrington fired a 72. England’s Ian Poulter carded a 77.
South Africa’s Retief Goosen, winner of this year’s US Open and currently in second spot on the Volvo Order of Merit, shot a 70.
McDowell clearly enjoyed playing with man of the moment Montgomerie, as well one of Europe’s assistant captain’s Thomas Bjorn, and moved to the top of the leaderboard with a back nine of six under par 32. He carded birdies on the 10th and11th, made three on the trot from the 14th, and recorded another on the last.
“It was such a relaxed atmosphere starting out today. I was chatting to Colin about the Ryder Cup. The first five or six holes were so relaxed. It was kind of tough to get into my rhythm. We really started to have a good time coming into the last ten or 11 holes. It was nice to come back after a week a off. You feel excited about your game again. I enjoyed myself,” said McDowell.
The young Irishman did well to feature so prominently after starting with a double bogey six on the first hole. McDowell won the 61st Telecom Italia Open this year and led the final round of the Linde German Masters two weeks before firing a final round 77 to finish third. Harrington marched to victory but was full of praise for his younger opponent.
Of his bad final day in Germany McDowell said: “I felt like I moved on pretty quickly. It was probably one of the tougher days I have experienced as a professional. In hindsight I did not strike the ball badly. I hit it in the wrong place a few times. I succumbed to what was a brutal course on Sunday. Padraig said to me afterwards the hardest position to be in was three ahead on Sunday. Padraig played great stuff.”
England’s Nick Dougherty, Raymond Russell from Scotland, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin, Australia’s Jarrod Moseley, Sweden’s Patrik Sjoland and Welshman Philip Price all carded 68s.
Lara started The Heritage strongly despite a hectic schedule this year.
“I have been playing a little bit up and down this year. I miss a lot of cuts by one so I am 44th on the Order of Merit. The last few weeks I have not played so well. Maybe I am a little bit tired as this is my 27th tournament of the year,” said Lara, who is a good friend of compatriot Sergio Garcia and sent him a congratulatory text on Sunday.
“With the Volvo Masters this year I am probably going to play 31 which is too much. With a few tournaments in Spain as well that can be 40 weeks. That is a lot,” added the Spaniard.
Montgomerie holed a 35 footer on the 18th to finish the day in red figures and he also birdied the 17th.
“Three, three finish was great because nothing much happened. I was tired and I am sure you have heard that from the other Ryder Cup players who are playing. Quite tired and the atmosphere was slightly different so it’s sometimes difficult to get going but nice finish,”said Montgomerie, who holed the putt on Sunday to secure The Ryder Cup for Europe.