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Caddie to the rescue

Graeme McDowell was reeling after a double bogey on the first hole Thursday, soon followed by another dropped shot at No. 5. Thank goodness, then, for some wise words from caddie Ken Comboy.

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Graeme McDowell admitted his head was spinning after his early troubles, until his caddie calmed him down. (Getty Images)

SANDWICH, England (AP) -- A pick-me-up from his caddie and a favorable change in weather helped Graeme McDowell remain in the hunt at the Open Championship after a horrible start to his first round.

The 2010 U.S. Open champion was reeling after making a double-bogey 6 at the first hole at Royal St. George's on Thursday, soon followed by another dropped shot at No. 5.

Weeks of preparation were threatening to be undone there and then. Thank goodness, then, for caddie Ken Comboy.

"I've got to thank him for keeping me in the moment because my head was spinning after a few holes," McDowell said. "That's what this course and what major championships can do to you. Maybe four or five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to turn that round."

McDowell, ranked No. 9, managed to recover his poise, and four birdies in a back nine played in benign, still conditions saw the Northern Irishman come home at 2-under 68. He is tied for sixth, three shots off the lead, and clear of many of his chief rivals for the claret jug.

"The old cliche (in the first round) is, 'You can't win it, you can only lose it.' I tried to lose it but I managed to hang in there. I'm in a great position," he said.

With Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy -- three of the world's top four -- all shooting opening-round 71s, McDowell finds himself in solid position.

It could have been so different.

"I just got off to a horrible start. Three days' perfect preparation, nice warmup, walk onto the first tee and just put one of my worst swings of the week on it," he said. "My second shot, all I could do was just hit it over the back and I pulled a horrible lie.

"I make double and walk to the second tee wondering what the hell just happened."

After his win at Pebble Beach and his Ryder Cup exploits at Celtic Manor last year when he holed the winning putt for Europe, McDowell is made of sterner stuff these days.

"Perseverance, staying in the present and just believing in myself," he said. "Patience is what you need, especially in links golf."

With the wind dying down to leave Royal St. George's defenseless in the late afternoon, McDowell birdied Nos. 12 and 13, as well as the final two holes. He could also be fortunate with the weather on Friday, with the forecast predicting a calm morning when McDowell tees off before conditions worsen.

"You've just got to count yourself lucky when it happens because luck evens itself out over a year. It really is about jockeying for position the next couple of days," he said.