Lowry’s 70 keeps the home fires burning as he lies two shots off Rock and Uihlein

Birdie, birdie finish is the perfect tonic for Offaly man after shaky start

Shane Lowry of Ireland waves to the crowd after his birdie on the 17th hole during the second round of the Irish Open at Carton House in Maynooth. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Shane Lowry of Ireland waves to the crowd after his birdie on the 17th hole during the second round of the Irish Open at Carton House in Maynooth. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images


The smile masks an inner toughness, certainly in the case of Shane Lowry.

Yesterday, as the wind whipped across the exposed course, the Offaly man – aware of the travails befalling each of Ireland’s four Major champions – kept smiling, retained his rhythm and demonstrated fortitude as he stayed within touching distance of joint-leaders Robert Rock and Peter Uihlein as the Irish Open here on the Montgomerie Course reached its midpoint.

On a day where one sucker punch after another seemed to meet the so-called golden generation of modern Irish Major winners, Lowry – once again – manfully carried the home challenge. Although he stumbled with two bogeys in his opening three holes, Lowry recovered to sign for 70 that moved him to 137, seven-under-par, and two strokes behind the leaders. Job done, and nicely poised to pounce.

Despite the exits of Messrs McDowell, Harrington, Clarke and McIlroy, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Lowry, in fact, was one of eight Irish players – along with Gareth Shaw (141), Simon Thornton, Alan Dunbar, Damian Mooney (all 142), Michael Hoey and Peter Lawrie (143) and Séamus Power (144) – who were among the 72 players who survived the cut, which fell on level par 144.

Make a fight of it
Lowry, who won this title as an amateur in 2009 when it was played at Baltray, credited his mental game with his ability to make a fight of it. “Mentally, I was very good. I didn’t get down on myself, just dug it out . . . I’m playing good golf, standing up and feeling comfortable over the ball. I free-wheeled nicely,” he admitted. It was, though, easier said than done. There were times he had to work hard for what he got.

Indeed, Lowry had spent much of the morning watching television and witnessed a multitude of birdies. By the time he reached the driving range, though, the wind was gusting up to 30 miles an hour. “I got off to a shaky start, but was proud of myself the way I handled myself,” he conceded.

Still, a birdie-birdie finish provided the perfect tonic. On the Par Three 17th hole, where the grandstand horseshoes around the green, Lowry had felt the hairs rise on his neck as the crowd reacted to Peter Lawrie – in the group ahead – almost hole out. The ball finished tap-in distance from the hole. That roar was replicated shortly afterwards, when Lowry hit his own tee shot to 20 feet and then rolled in the birdie putt.

Loud cheer
The noise that followed that birdie gave Lowry a hint of what could await over the final two rounds. “It was good. Hopefully I’ll give them something to roar about over the week . . . there’s a lot of expectation but I suppose I’m more confident on my home course here, I’m comfortable with the surroundings and, yeah, it’s an advantage for me I think. I’m going to try and use that advantage,” he said.

Lowry – seeking his third win on the European Tour, having made his breakthrough in the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009 when still an amateur and then adding the Portugal Masters title to his CV last season – is cast in the role of pursuer behind leading duo Rock and Uihlein, the former world number one ranked amateur.

Uihlein, an American who opted to take the European Tour route to global glory rather than going for his PGA Tour card, is one of the game’s up-and-coming talents who claimed that playing his collegiate golf in Oklahoma benefited him here. “I spent three and a half years in Oklahoma where we would play in a tornado,” said Uihlein, who claimed a breakthrough career win in the Madeira Island Open earlier this season.

The Irish Open is a different kettle of fish, so to speak. But Uihlein’s game has impressed. As Graeme McDowell observed: “I remember playing with him (in the 2011 US Open) at Congressional, and I was impressed by him. I thought his ball flight was impressive, very un-American, very European looking. He had that low trajectory like Sergio Garcia, and I thought the guy could play well over here.”

With 34 players within six shots of the lead, however, the task of finishing the job will be a tough one. And, in carrying the bulk of home expectations, Lowry is determined to rise to the challenge. “I think the crowd is going to be a big key at the weekend. There’s going to be plenty of people coming out to watch me and hopefully I can give them something to shout about.”