Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington need to reign in Spain
Irish duo need strong finishes to have a chance to make lucrative tour finale in Dubai
Pádraig Harrington is looking to win on Spanish soil for a third time at this week’s Andalucia Masters in Valderrama. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington are in unusual positions heading into this week’s Andalucia Masters – hosted by US Masters champion Sergio Garcia – at Valderrama, an event which is the last of the so-called regular tournaments where tour cards for next season will effectively be decided.
Securing those tour cards is not the issue for either Lowry or Harrington; their sights are on getting to the European Tour’s finale in Dubai next month.
And, as things stand, neither Lowry nor Harrington are assured of making it to the European Tour’s gala event – the DP World Championship – and their plights are further emphasised by the fact that they’re not in the field for next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, an event where there is a limited field, no cut and a huge purse.
For Lowry, especially, the need to push on for a late-season surge in form is necessary if he is to make it to the business end of the campaign in Dubai: at the moment, Lowry is 65th on the Race to Dubai standings, with only the top-60 making it to the big-money divvy-up in the desert.
All of which makes Valderrama an important stop-off, with his sights then set on the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya – part of the Rolex Series – in a bid to trend upwards in both the Order of Merit but also in the world rankings.
Lowry is currently ranked 88th in the world, and has set an objective of making it back into the world’s top-50 by year’s end (which would bring an invitation to the Masters next April) but increasingly it is looking like a tournament win will be necessary if he is to achieve that aim.
Harrington’s on-off love affair with Valderrama goes back to the early stages of his professional career, when he routinely teed up in the old Volvo Masters (then the traditional end-of-season tournament) with the ambition to be Europe’s number one.
Harrington – currently 119th in the order of merit in an injury-hampered season – will actually be playing on Spanish soil for the first time in nine years, which only serves to show how his career changed since winning that first of three career Majors in 2007. From then on, with dual PGA Tour/European Tour membership, a greater emphasis was placed stateside on the PGA Tour and the FedEx Cup.
Harrington’s career has featured two professional wins on Spanish soil: the first, in the 1996 Spanish Open, was his breakthrough win on the European Tour, but he also added the Volvo Masters in 2001, when it was played at Montecastillo before reverting to Valderrama.
“It’s one of those really special golf course and obviously has a great history, being a former Ryder Cup venue. I’ve always enjoyed playing in Spain, it’s always nice to go back to a country where you’ve been successful,” admitted Harrington, who would need a win – and the €333,330 cheque – to move from his current 119th in the Race to Dubai up into the top-60.
Gary Hurley – who plays mainly on the Challenge Tour, where he has had a disappointing campaign – is the third Irish player in the field, where Masters champion and host Garcia and his compatriot Jon Rahm are the big draws.
But the tournament is also significant for its role in determining who will secure full tour cards for the 2018, as it is the last of the “regular” events before the WGC-HSBC and the final three Race to Dubai events, which take in the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge and the DP World. So it is that Valderrama is the cut-off point for the leading 100 players, with England’s James Morrison the player on the bubble heading into the event.