BETHESDA, Maryland, June 16 (Reuters) - Defending champion Graeme McDowell said he accomplished his mission on Thursday by putting himself in the thick of the hunt in the first round of the U.S. Open golf championship.
The Northern Irishman posted a one-under-par 70 at Congressional Country Club to put his name on the leaderboard among the early starters.
"I felt really, really good this morning. I felt normal," said 31-year-old McDowell, who won his first major at last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "It felt like a regular major championship. It didn't feel like I was defending anything.
"I set myself some challenges this morning, to go out and try ... to go through my processes correctly, through my routines, and just be patient and enjoy the round. And I really accomplished those things."
McDowell bogeyed the first hole but bounced back with a birdie at number two and another at the par-five sixth. He parred the next 12 holes, narrowly missing on a few good birdie opportunities, to complete a solid 70.
The Briton said it was not all smooth sailing, as he had to navigate changing conditions as winds picked up.
"Holes like 15 and 16 played different than what we saw in practice. I hit nine-iron on 15, and in practice I've been going on with three- and four-irons. You had to adapt your game plan a little bit," he said.
"But I kept it in play well today. I played smart golf. My iron play could have been better, but all in all, very, very happy with most departments today."
McDowell also experienced something out of the ordinary at the par-five ninth hole, where he had to mark his ball on the fairway after British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen's approach shot nestled right next to the Northern Irishman's ball.
"Very unusual circumstance there on nine," said McDowell. "We laid them up from about 220 yards and the two balls were touching in the fairway, which I've never seen on the golf course before. It was pretty incredible."
Oosthuizen, who went on to shoot a 69, and McDowell chuckled as they scrutinized the balls, puzzled over who was away. An official decided the South African should hit first, so McDowell marked his ball one club length away.
"Louis had to go first, and thankfully he didn't remove a huge piece of turf," McDowell said. "I didn't know what I was going to do to recreate my lie if he had taken a huge divot."
They both made pars.
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