Major incentive for Shane Lowry as season comes to an end

Rory McIlroy returns to action later this month while Graeme McDowell also in Shanghai

Rory McIlroy may be conspicuous by his absence as the only one of Europe's triumphant 12-man Ryder Cup team not to be playing in this week's $8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

However, there is an altogether different focus on another Irish man, Shane Lowry, who has moved to within touching distance of that long sought-after place in the world's top 50.

Lowry has moved to a career-high 51st in the latest world rankings, tantalisingly close to that magical barrier.

If he manages to break through and stays there till the end of the year, he will earn the bonus of an invite to the US Masters – the only Major he has yet to play in – for next April. The Offalyman's upward graph this year is one of the most impressive of any player on tour.


Moving up

Back in early May, when he arrived at Wentworth for the


PGA Championship

, Lowry – who had six missed cuts in his opening eight tournaments – was in 142nd position in the world rankings. A runner-up finish to McIlroy moved Lowry up to 74th and since then he has consolidated and improved on his position with the possibility of making a breakthrough into the world’s top 50.

Lowry's immediate schedule is an intense one. Following the WGC, where there is no cut, he will travel to next week's Turkish Airlines Open and then the following week to the European Tour season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. It is a run of tournaments that carries the promise of so much in terms of Lowry's future, with the invite to Augusta the biggest goal.

In addition to the remaining three tournaments in the European Tour's Final Series, Lowry could also potentially earn a place in the big-money Nedbank Championship in Sun City, which is an invitational tournament with world ranking points.

There is a category in the tournament for the top 10 available players among the top 30 off the European Tour order of merit and Lowry is 14th in the Race to Dubai with a strong chance of being one of that number. The cut-off for the qualifying criteria comes on November 20th, the day of the first round of the DP World Tour Championship and two weeks before the Nedbank starts.

Lowry is one of only two Irish players in the field in Shanghai this week, where he is joined by Graeme McDowell.

Race to Dubai

McIlroy last month took the HSBC tournament off his schedule so that he could focus on his ongoing legal proceedings with his former management agency, Horizon Sports. The world number one is not due to return to action until the DP World Tour Championship where he is poised to add the European order of merit title to his PGA player of the year accolade.

Even after skipping the first three tournaments in the Final Series, McIlroy is set to top the European Tour standings at season's end as acknowledged by Ian Poulter.

“I think the Race to Dubai is done and dusted now with Rory being so far ahead. So for me it is about getting as many world ranking points as I can because I haven’t done a good job of that this year. I’ve dropped way too far (down), so I need to play well,” said Poulter, who started the year ranked 12th in the world but is now 44th.

McDowell, for his part, is back on a course where he finished third behind Dustin Johnson last year.

“My game’s in good shape. I’m a little disappointed with how I finished in the BMW Masters [won by Marcel Siem] but all in all I’m taking some good form to Sheshan and I need a good week for the Race to Dubai and other various reasons,” said McDowell.

Qualifying school

In some contrast to the riches on offer in China, aspiring European Tour card holders will go through the next phase of the qualifying school at various courses throughout Spain this week.

There are eight Irish players – Niall Turner, Michael McGeady, David Higgins, Niall Kearney, Brendan McCarroll, Mark Murphy, Ruaidhri McGee and Gareth Shaw – among those seeking a place in the Tour School finals later this month.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times