Graeme McDowell hit with 'bad timing' after Sky Sports on-course interview in Saudi event

Graeme McDowell, who sits just two shots off the lead, is facing the threat of a slow-play penalty in the final two rounds of the Saudi International after picking up a "yellow card" following an on-course TV interview.

Graeme McDowell in action during the second round of Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City
Graeme McDowell in action during the second round of Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City

The 2010 US Open champion was handed a "bad timing" under the European Tour's new four-point plan to tackle slow play minutes after he'd been interviewed by Tim Barter for Sky Sports during the second round at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City.

If McDowell picks up another "bad timing" at any point over the weekend on the Red Sea coast, he will be hit with an immediate one-shot penalty, which could cost him a first European Tour triumph in nearly six years and a chance of getting himself in the Ryder Cup mix later this year.

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"I just did an interview with Tim Barter, so I was 50 yards behind the guys," said McDowell of what happened on the fourth hole - his 13th - as he tried to back up an opening six-under-par 64, having shared the overnight lead in the $3.5 million tournament with Malaysia's Gavin Green.

Referring to his second shot in the same group as Phil Mickelson and Rafa Cabrera Bello, he added: "I was first to go and I had 215 yards into the wind. It was a difficult shot."

The Northern Irishman had 50 seconds to hit the shot but, after talking 84 seconds, he was punished by referee Andrew Snoddy, who had put the group on the clock a few holes earlier. If he'd used a "time out" permitted once in a round under the four-point plan introduced a fortnight ago in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, McDowell would have had an additional 40 seconds and escaped.

"I'd have called a time out if that was on my radar," he added. "I actually jokingly called a time out after the shot because I thought he'd have given me the benefit of the doubt, but he was like, 'no, that's a bad time'. I'm like, brilliant mate!"

Sky Sports, the European Tour's official broadcaster, have conducted on-course interviews for three-and-a-half years and McDowell, one of the most approachable players in the game, had no issues at all with Barter over the episode even though it had "upset my rhythm" for the next couple of holes.

"Tim is great at his job and I don't want a situation where guys won't give him an interview. But I called him over and said, 'you might want to have a word with them' because, if I am going to do that for you, which I want to because we are in the entertainment business and I think it's a good thing for viewers to get an insight into what is happening out on the course, only for the referee to give me a bad time, then everyone is going to say 'no'," he said.

"We don't want that because I think it is bringing a nice dynamic. Listen, we are trying to make this product as fast and as interesting as is possible. It's not always the most exciting product in the world this stuff out here and I think those on-course interviews are a nice little addition.

"I was never the fastest player in the world, but I've made a concerted effort to be faster and be more re-active because I think it helps me as a player. Then bang, I've been hit with a bad timing."

Bidding for his first victory on the European circuit since the 2014 French Open, the 40-year-old sits third, two shots behind Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, after carding a 68 for an eight-under-par total, with Malaysia's Gavin Green sandwiched between the pair in the battle for a $583,330 top prize.

"I'm a bit out of practice, there's no doubt about it," said McDowell, a 10-time winner on the circuit and trying to land his 16th title triumph worldwide. "But the couple of little sniffs I've had the last couple of years, I've felt pretty good.

"It's nice and low key here this week. It's not 50,000 people out there creating a bit of an atmosphere and getting you uncomfortable. I feel like I can keep myself calm. I didn't putt well at all today and, if I can clean that up, I feel I can be pretty dangerous this weekend."

Perez, who has gone from strength to strength since landing his maiden European Tour win in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October and looks a genuine contender for a spot on Padraig Harrington's Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits in September, stormed into the lead on the back of a second successive 65.

"I am very pleased with my run of form since winning the Dunhill Links as that was key as far as having the belief to be able to continue that form over the next couple of months," said the 27-year-old, who lives in Dundee with his girlfriend Abigail, a dental student in the City of Discovery.

“It is also testament for the work that I had done prior to my win at the Dunhill. It does not just happen overnight and you just do not play great for one week. It is a combination of a lot of things."

Perez splits his practise time at home between Ladybank, Panmure, Drumoig and the St Andrews Links Academy. “I get noticed a bit more now from my win last year," he admitted. "I am very appreciative of the people of Scotland for being welcoming to me, and I will do my best to make Scotland my second home."

Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, sits five shots off the lead, as does Henrik 2016 Open champion Stenson, with Mickelson and current Open champion Shane Lowry a shot further back. Brooks Koepka, the world No 1, is on one-under.

Grant Forrest is the leading Scot on one-under after carding a five-under 66 - one of the best rounds of the day, though he was disappointed to drop two shots in three holes in the last group to finish."It is hard when you are playing in the dark - it is a bit ridiculous," said the 26-year-old, who described his play in getting to six-under through 13 holes as "brilliant".

Richie Ramsay and Connor Syme progressed on level-par along with Scott Jamieson, who came home in 30, five-under.

"Under the circumstances, that was probably the best nine holes I have ever played," said the Florida-based player of an effort on the hardest half in windy conditions.

Despite a bogey at the last, Stephen Gallacher also made it to the weekend on one-over, but Scottish No 1 Bob MacIntyre (three-over) made an early exit along with David Drysdale (two-over), Calum Hill (four-over) and David Law (five-over).