Straight back on the horse, so to speak. Shane Lowry could barely believe that four days had flown by since his third-place finish in the Masters but he carried that positive momentum forward with him into the opening round of the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, where an opening round five-under-par 66 immediately places him at the business part of the leaderboard.
He was not alone. Graeme McDowell, whose last tour outing was a missed cut in the Valero Texas Open a fortnight ago, rebounded with a fine matching 66 that had the two Irishmen among those cast as pursuers of leader Cameron Young, who opened with a 63. Chile's Joaquin Niemann is two shots further back after a 65.
For Lowry, it was a day where he enjoyed the challenge of keeping a low ball flight below the trees so that the wind wouldn’t be a factor. So it was that he produced stinger irons off tees, lovely low-flighted drives and, more often than not, lovely approach shots to set up numerous birdie opportunities. When it came time to sign his scorecard, it was one that featured five birdies and not a single dropped shot.
The round started with a run of six straight pars before Lowry caught fire around the turn, with birdies on the 16th, 17th and 18th holes and then adding another two on his homeward run on the second and fifth. He had another golden chance on the ninth, his closing hole, but he missed from three feet and allowed himself a wry smile.
“I woke up and I couldn’t believe it was Thursday already. It was one of those I felt like the Masters was only yesterday, and I felt quite tired. But once I got out there and got after it, a nice group with Jordan [Spieth] and Justin [Thomas], you feed off the energy out there and it was nice to get out and shoot a good score,” said Lowry, who added:
“The way the course is set up, I like keeping the ball down under the trees. I think it kind of suits that. You need to kind of flight it around here, and that’s what I do well, keeping it down out of the wind. Even though you’re in the trees and you can’t really feel it, there’s a lot of wind up there. You just need to be in control of your ball, and I’ve done that really well today. I just love coming here.
“To be honest, it’s more so the time of year. It’s obviously a beautiful place and it’s a nice course and all, but the week after the Masters, last week is so stressful, and everybody has their families here, and it feels almost like a semi-holiday and you just go and play a bit of golf as well.”
Certainly, the relaxed environment and a liking for the course suited Lowry in his bid to claim a first tour win since his 2019 British Open success. And McDowell, too, enjoyed a return to one of his favourite tour stops.
McDowell, ranked 404th in the world rankings, showed signs of a return to form in the opening two rounds of the recent Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic before fading away over the weekend and he again got off to a strong start with a round that also featured five birdies.
“The golf course is in great shape. I think it will continue to firm up going into the weekend,” said McDowell. “And it’s always a great test of golf here. I felt like I controlled my ball well, kept it in play off the tee, which is number one key, and obviously iron play and I felt good on the greens. It’s a decent start. I’ve got to continue doing the same things going into the weekend,” said McDowell.
Collated scores (US unless stated):