McDowell and Lowry head to Bulgaria for country’s first PGA European Tour event

McIlroy salvaged a top-10 finish in the Players but lost further ground to Tiger Woods in the gap between one and two in the world rankings

 Graeme McDowell next competes in Bulgaria.

Graeme McDowell next competes in Bulgaria.


The contrast in travel arrangements yesterday for Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry en route to the Volvo World Matchplay – which breaks new ground for the PGA European Tour in being the first ever event staged in Bulgaria – would have you believe some players are more equal than others: whilst G-Mac was part of an official transatlantic jet charter from Jacksonville that culminated in a helicopter ride to the cliff-top course, Lowry’s more conventional routing entailed a five-hour wait in Sofia between airline scheduled flights.

Come the actual championship, however, all will be equal in the round-robin group stages – eight groups of three players – before the respective group winners progress to the knockout phase when the mano o mano nature of the event will come into its own. McDowell, at eighth, is the lowest-ranked player off the world rankings competing. He lost out to Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts in last year’s final.

McDowell’s form on the US Tour, where he has four top-10 finishes including a win in the Heritage Classic, has seen him bank almost $2 million in prizemoney stateside and move from 17th up to eighth in the world. In both money won and his ranking, the fruits of McDowell’s labours are obvious and he will seek to bring that form to Europe for a stint that will also take in next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Game suited
Although Lowry can point to a win over Rory McIlroy in the Accenture Matchplay en route to the last 16 and a top 15 on a sponsor’s invite in the Texas Open as proof that his game is suited to competing on the US Tour, the Offaly man needs to hit the ground running over the coming weeks if he is to correct a slide down the world rankings. He is currently 84th, having started the year in 52nd.

McDowell and Lowry are the only two Irish competing in the 24-man field in Bulgaria, but Pádraig Harrington – who has dropped three places to 61st in the latest world rankings – has remained on in the US to compete in this week’s Byron Nelson Classic.

Rory McIlroy salvaged a top-10 finish in the Players but lost further ground to Tiger Woods in the gap between one and two in the world rankings. Indeed, the difference in results between the two players is emphasised by the fact that McIlroy – as world number one – enjoyed a 4.62 percentage point lead over Woods at the start of the year but has now fallen 3.23 points behind. McIlroy is winless since his victory in the season-ending Dubai World championship on the European Tour last November. Woods has now won four times this season.

McIlroy, who has a week off before returning to competition in next week’s European Tour flagship event at the BMW PGA in Wentworth, blamed his putter for failing to contend over the weekend.

“Tee to green, I thought I played really, really well. I just didn’t hole the putts. I’ve a week off and I’ll go and work on that and see if I can improve around the greens. If I can do that and keep hitting the ball the same way, I think it’s very, very close,” said the Ulster man, who will follow the outing at Wentworth with an appearance in Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament ahead of next month’s US Open at Merion.