Graeme McDowell inspired by Lee Westwood as he sets sights on Ryder Cup return

Add Graeme McDowell to the list of 2018 Ryder Cup vice captains gunning to be back playing in this year's event at Whistling Straits.

Graeme McDowell shot his six-under-par 64 in the company of Phil Mickelson in the first round of the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City

Inspired by Lee Westwood putting himself on Padraig Harrington's radar after winning the recent Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the 40-year-old Northern Irishman aims to do likewise.

“I love the Ryder Cup," declared McDowell after firing a six-under-par 64 to share the lead with Malaysia's Gavin Green after the first round of the Saudi International. “They are the most special experiences of my career, from a golfing point of view there’s nothing better."

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Referring to his role in Thomas Bjorn's backroom team at Le Golf National, the 2010 US Open champion added: “Standing on the sidelines at Paris was sobering - although not sober - but now I’m re-focussed and re-motivated we’ll see what happens.

"There’s no point declaring I’m going to be in the Ryder Cup and do this or that. I’m not. I’m just going to take each week as it comes and we’ll see what happens."

Westwood has an 11th appearance in the biennial event in his sights after a Rolex Series win in the UAE and McDowell admitted: "We are all trying to follow in Westy's footsteps. What Lee is doing is inspiring and that's the beauty of this sport where you can play well into your 40s.

"I've been working with Kevin Kirk out in the States since August and he's changed my approach. Nothing major technically but more practising better, thinking better and preparing myself better.

"I am getting back to doing what I used to do very well, which was come in as one of the best prepared players in the field. What I lack in talent, I try to make up for with good preparation and a great approach to the tournament.

"He's helped me a huge amount. I felt I had a really strong finish to last year, had a lot of positives going into the very short off-season, played well in Honolulu obviously and had it going in Dubai until I finished in an ambulance on Friday.

"It is nice to continue the good stuff into today. I got off to a great start, which was important to do, and kind of hung in there on the back nine."

Playing in the same group, Phil Mickelson covered that stretch in 29, helped by seven birdies, as the five-time major winner also got off to a promising start with a 66 to sit joint-eighth.

"It was nice to get out of there with six-under par because I felt like I played great today," said McDowell. "It would have been a horrible round to let get away but to finish birdie-birdie-birdie was nice.

"I was just feeding off Phil having seven birdies on the back nine. It was Phil the thrill out there. It was fun to watch him and fun to play with him."

Green carded eight birdies in his effort in one of the first groups out, with the wind having got up on the Red Sea coast by the time McDowell and Mickelson started their rounds.

"It was a great back nine," said Mickelson of his birdies at the tenth, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th at the King Abdullah Economic City course. "I feel like my game is a lot sharper than I've been scoring, so it was nice having that back nine."

Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion, sits joint-third in a five-strong group that also includes Victor Perez, the on-form Frenchman who lives in Dundee.

Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, is handily-placed on 67, three shots better than world No 1 Brooks Koepka, while Open champion Shane Lowry and Sergio Gargia, who was disqualified in this event 12 months ago for damaging greens, both signed for 69s.

Maintaining his strong start to the season, Connor Syme is the leading Scot on one-under, a shot ahead of Richie Ramsay and Stephen Gallacher, who matched McDowell's three straight birdies to finish.

After starting with two birdies, Scottish No 1 Bob MacIntyre had to settle for a 72, leaving him a shot outside the projected cut heading into the second circuit.

Calum Hill (71) is just inside that mark, but David Drysdale, Scott Jamieson and Grant Forrest all have work to do after 73s, as has David Law after a 75.