Major achievements expected of Shane Lowry ahead of US PGA
Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke believe a Major is on the way for WGC winner
Sergio García plays a practice round prior to the start of 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
The wise old heads are nodding in his direction, not at all surprised at Shane Lowry’s rise in the golfing world.
Darren Clarke, who has ticked the boxes of winning two WGCs of his own and a Major, and Pádraig Harrington, who set the ball rolling for the Irish players in the Majors and has three such titles, are two of the sages who believe the 28-year-old Offalyman has what it takes to deliver a Major of his own.
If not now, at the US PGA here on the shores of Lake Michigan, then some other time; it’s only a matter of when really.
“Shane’s game has been developing over the past few years, he’s getting stronger and stronger. I think [winning the WGC-Bridgestone] is a huge breakthrough win for him and is very important for him at this stage of his career. He’s going to gain a massive amount of confidence from it and go forward,” said Clarke, who, as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the defence of the trophy against the US at Hazeltine, has Lowry on his radar.
Harrington was similarly effusive in his praise of Lowry’s pedigree.
“Shane, after winning a world event, standard wise, it’s as good as a Major, so he’s got to believe he can do it,” said the Dubliner.
Lowry, who rose to 19th in the world following his win in Akron, has kept his feet firmly on the ground since moving across state lines from Ohio through Illinois and on to Wisconsin. However, he was among those distracted by the European Tour’s announcement yesterday that next year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will not form part of its schedule in 2016.
Consequently, due to a clash in dates with the French Open, the WGC will not count towards Ryder Cup points. It also puts Lowry in an invidious position.
Although traditionally played in the week before the US PGA, next year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is among those affected by the return of golf to the Olympics and the need to shift tournament dates in order to accommodate the tournament in Rio.
It would seem that the PGA Tour’s decision to give the Bridgestone the June 30th-July 3rd date was done with minimal contact with the European Tour, which has reacted by forcefully backing the French Open and, effectively, letting players know that they are expected to be in Paris – a course which plays host to the Ryder Cup in 2018 – rather than Akron.
“In terms of what the European Tour has done, I think they’ve done the right thing in standing beside one of the mainstays of the European Tour, a tournament steeped in history . . . I think it is one of those unfortunate things. It depends what the guys want to do. If they’re close to qualifying on the points list or they’re close to qualifying through Dubai, it will be a decision, a tough decision for the guys to make. Especially, it’s a tough decision for Shane,” said Clarke, who added that “under no means would I attempt to tell one of my peers what he should do and what he shouldn’t do”.
Clarke, meanwhile, expects McIlroy – who is playing for the first time since rupturing his ATFL ligament in his left ankle in early July – to contend in the PGA Championship despite his lack of tournament sharpness.
Although Clarke had claimed at the British Open last month that McIlroy wouldn’t play again this season, later saying it was a “joke” comment, he admitted he wasn’t surprised to see his fellow Northern Irishman back on the fairways.
“He has a wonderful team around him. I’m sure with an ankle injury he would have been advised not to come back until fully fit. If you injure an ankle and keep playing on it, it gets worse and worse and worse. He’s back and may not be competitively sharp for obvious reasons, but he is world number one. He’s done many amazing things in his young career, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contending this week,” said Clarke.