Shane Lowry still in the swing in Akron
Offaly man will tee up in the WGC as Harrington heads to Reno instead
Shane Lowry: this weekend can show how much he has developed since his debut appearance at Firestone in 2009 Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
The nature of the beast is that professional golf is results driven. And nowhere is this best encapsulated than in this week’s $8.75 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, where Shane Lowry – courtesy of his Portugal Masters win last season – is in the field; and three-time Major champion Pádraig Harrington, without a win on any of the main tours since his 2008 US PGA title, isn’t.
Lowry will be joined at Firestone Country Club by world number two Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – who yesterday paid a reconnaissance visit to Oak Hill ahead of next week’s USPGA, where he described the rough as “brutal” – whilst Harrington will, instead, compete in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
And, with his place in the US Tour’s FedEx Cup play-off series hanging in the balance, the Dubliner has added another tournament to his Stateside schedule in hope that it will lead to a run of five successive weeks in action.
Regular tour stop-off
Currently 123rd on the FedEx standings, and needing to stay inside the top-125 to make it into The Barclays, Harrington plays in this week’s regular tour stop-off in Reno, next week’s USPGA at Oak Hill and has added the following week’s Wyndham Championship with the aim of making The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship, the opening two events of the end-of-season play-offs.
With one eye on preparing for next week’s USPGA, Harrington has another on his FedEx Cup position. It would constitute something of a disastrous season for him if he failed to make it into the play-offs and Harrington – “I need to get up the rankings,” he said – has concentrated on working on his wedge play and short game in practice during a week at home in Dublin following on from his British Open.
In preaching patience to himself, Harrington said: “I had hoped that the (British) Open would have been the week it would all come together, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”
Ironically, Harrington – who managed only six birdies in four rounds at Muirfield – is playing in Reno this week where the modified Stableford system is in play.
The system rewards birdies and eagles and means that pars, which were the hallmark of Harrington’s game in the US Open and the British Open, will only mean a player goes backwards. The bottom line is that he needs to get his approach play closer to the hole to improve his birdie prospects.
Whilst Harrington continues to look for a performance to ignite his season, Lowry – 82nd in the latest world rankings and, consequently, assured of his place in next week’s USPGA Championship – can gauge just how much he has developed as a player since his debut appearance at Firestone in 2009.
“It’s four years ago now and I know my game is definitely a lot better than it was then. I am more experienced and a lot more comfortable in the surroundings (on tour) . . . I’m a much more mature player now,” said Lowry.
McDowell, who missed the three round cut at the Canadian Open and who yesterday moved on down to check out Oak Hill in Rochester, upstate New York, en route to Akron, and McIlroy are also in the field in Akron and, like Lowry, are guaranteed four rounds as there is no cut.
The 73-man field features 49 of the world’s top-50 (only Louis Oosthuizen, who is suffering from an neck injury is missing) and marks the return to action of British Open champion Phil Mickelson, who also took in a reconnaissance trip to Oak Hill yesterday in preparation for the USPGA. World number one Tiger Woods will be chasing an eighth title in the Bridgestone, although he has not won there since 2009.
Brandt Snedeker remained at number seven in the world rankings after capturing the Canadian Open on Sunday, his second tournament title and eighth top-10 of a season that also saw him spend almost two months sidelined with injury.
“It feels like two completely different years for me. First part of the year, I couldn’t do anything wrong. I was playing fantastic, and I got injured. I feel like I’ve been fighting to get myself back to the way I was at the beginning of the year. I’m not saying I’m there, but I’m close . . . it feels great to get a win, to validate all the hard work I’ve put in over the past three months where I haven’t played my best and know that I’m working on the right stuff and able to hold up under some pretty serious pressure.”