Lowry has nothing to lose as he faces world number one McIlroy
American John Merrick plays his approach to the last on his way to victory in the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Knowing your enemy as well as you know yourself has been regarded as one of the keys to successful warfare since time immemorial.
But that’s no comfort to the four Irishmen in tomorrow’s first-round draw for the WGC-Accenture Match Play, with world number one Rory McIlroy taking on stablemate and former Ireland team-mate Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell pitted against three-time Major winner Pádraig Harrington.
To make matters worse, all four are in the same section of the draw and on course to meet in Friday’s third round, meaning only one of them can make it to the quarter-finals.
Looking that far ahead is an exercise in futility and while McIlroy will not be relishing a showdown with a putter of Lowry’s quality on the opening day, McDowell and Harrington could not have asked for a tougher draw in bad weather with temperatures forecast to plummet. Rain is also expected.
“If it’s as bad they say on Wednesday, I think I’d have preferred to play an American rather than a guy like Pádraig, who is probably as good a bad-weather player as I would be,” McDowell said before heading out to play the back nine with Lowry. “It’s disappointing, but it’s just part and parcel of this week.
“I think we are disappointed that we are all in the same bracket and that we are playing each other. That really kind of hurts things in that only one of us can make the quarter-finals.
“You’d prefer not to play guys you are close to and Pádraig is a tenacious match player and I will have my work cut out. But there are 63 other players in this field who are all capable of shooting 64.”
Harrington and McDowell both played the course on Sunday having missed the cut in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
The Dubliner was in Phoenix yesterday, shooting an ad for his club sponsors Wilson, while Lowry and McDowell got ready to do their homework on a course that is characterised by its severely undulating greens.
On paper, world number 68 Lowry should have little chance of surprising McIlroy. But given the world number one’s teething problems with his new Nike equipment – especially the driver and the putter – he may well be severely tested by the Clara man, who has nothing to lose.
That’s certainly the view of England’s Justin Rose, who is impressed by what he’s seen from the pride of Offaly so far in his career. “I’ve played a lot of golf with Shane in the last few months and I’ve been really impressed with his putting. He seems to make a lot of putts from 10 feet and in.
“It’s not an easy match for Rory. When it’s world number one versus world number 64 (sic) it’s almost a free pass. You’re not expected to do anything, you can only be the hero. That’s the thing about being the top seed, you’re the one expected to win.”
Lowry suffered a small reverse in his preparations when his clubs didn’t turn up until yesterday, but it didn’t stop him in engaging in some good-natured banter with McIlroy, precisely over putting, when they met on the putting green. “I was telling him to practice his short ones because he won’t be getting many on Wednesday,” Lowry said with a grin. “It’s just a bit of craic.”
Asked if he’d have a psychological edge over a player he knows better than most having partnered him in foursomes for Ireland, Lowry said: “Listen, he’s the best golfer in the world and it’s hard to get an edge on him. I just have to go out and make as many birdies as I can and see where I am on Wednesday afternoon. He’s always been a go-for-it player and that suits me.
“I have no fear of going at flags and taking the golf course on. The greens are quite tricky so the short game will come into it, which will be good for me. I just have to try and enjoy it.”
Lowry knows he has nothing to lose but that doesn’t mean he won’t be feeling the pressure as he tries to break into the top 50 in the world who qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship in two weeks as well as the Masters. Revealing he’ll battle for just four spots in a Monday qualifier for the Honda Classic, he said: “I have pressure on myself too. I don’t want to go out and make a show of myself.”
An all-Ireland third round clash is possible but there is a lot of golf to be played before it can happen. The winner of the Lowry-McIlroy clash will meet either Carl Pettersson or Rickie Fowler.