Lowry and McDowell both off to strong starts at RBC Heritage Classic

Opening rounds of 66 leave pair three shots off leader Cameron Young

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):

63 Cameron Young
65 Joaquin Niemann (Chi)
66 Patrick Cantlay, Corey Conners (Can), Shane Lowry (Irl), Graeme McDowell (NIrl), Guillermo Mito Pereira (Chi), Sepp Straka (Aut), Adam Svensson (Can)
67 Stewart Cink, Brian Gay, Bill Haas, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng), Patton Kizzire, Denny McCarthy, Scott Piercy, Chad Ramey, Harold Varner III, Matthias Schwab (Aut)
68 Jonathan Byrd, Wyndham Clark, Tyler Duncan, Lucas Glover, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar, Pat Perez, J. T. Poston, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Roger Sloan (Can), Robert Streb, Aaron Wise
69 Joel Dahmen, Cameron Davis (Aus), Adam Hadwin (Can), James Hahn, Jim Herman, Harry Higgs, Billy Horschel, Si Woo Kim (Kor), Kevin Kisner, Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Adam Long, Peter Malnati, Troy Merritt, Doc Redman, Webb Simpson, Alex Smalley, Jordan Spieth, Hudson Swafford, Cameron Tringale, Kevin Tway, Erik van Rooyen (Rsa), Joseph Bramlett
70 Luke Donald (Eng), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Doug Ghim, Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Sung Jae Im (Kor), Jason Kokrak, Hank Lebioda, Davis Love III, Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na, Matthew NeSmith, Alexander Noren (Swe), Chengtsung Pan (Tai), Andrew Putnam, Justin Thomas, Danny Willett (Eng)
71 Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng), Michael Gligic (Can), Branden Grace (Rsa), Kramer Hickok, Charley Hoffman, Morgan Hoffmann, Sung-Hoon Kang (Kor), Danny Lee (Nzl), Ben Martin, Maverick McNealy, Carlos Ortiz (Mex), James Piot, Ian Poulter (Eng), Sam Ryder, J. J. Spaun, Henrik Stenson (Swe), Nick Taylor (Can), Sahith Theegala, Michael Thompson, Camilo Villegas (Col)
72 Wesley Bryan, Morgan DeNeen, Chesson Hadley, Brian Harman, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Russell Knox (Sco), Kyoung-Hoon Lee (Kor), William McGirt, Adam Schenk, Kevin Streelman, Brendon Todd
73 Scott Brown, Brice Garnett, Lanto Griffin, Tom Hoge, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes (Can), Takumi Kanaya (Jpn), Satoshi Kodaira (Jpn), Henrik Norlander (Swe), Cameron Smith (Aus), Brandt Snedeker, Brian Stuard, Richy Werenski
74 Jim Furyk, Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Scott Stallings, Martin Trainer, Nick Watney
75 Brandon Hagy, Stephan Jaeger (Ger), Nate Lashley, Luke List, Bryson Nimmer, Davis Riley
76 Rickie Fowler, Chez Reavie
79 Ryan Brehm, Beau Hossler
Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times