"It's always felt like a Major to me, I just loved it from day one," said Shane Lowry of his affection for the BMW PGA Championship. And, while a win has evaded him down through the years, the Offalyman - competing in the event for the 12th time in his career - heads into the PGA European Tour's flagship tournament at Wentworth with his mind occupied on a number of fronts.
Apart from the championship itself, with over €1 million to the winner, the BMW PGA also acts as the final tournament - with boosted points - in Europe’s Ryder Cup campaign. For Lowry, currently occupying the last automatic spot, a win will of course tick all the boxes; but the permutations are such that a number of players can yet play their way into Pádraig Harrington’s team for Whistling Straits later this month.
“Obviously I’m here and probably have a few people gunning for me this week but I’m in a great position. I’ve worked very hard this year to get there. I’ve spent definitely the last five, six years trying to make a Ryder Cup team. So I feel like I’ve got a great opportunity this week and I’m looking forward to going out and trying to do it,” said Lowry.
In normal circumstances, Lowry would likely be at home with his wife Wendy and children Iris and Ivy following the latter’s arrival into the world last week. “[Having a new baby], it’s far bigger than any golf tournament or any result you’ll ever have or anything you’ll ever do . . . [it was] tough leaving them this week and being here, but I have a job to do.”
Certainly, in terms of a home away from home, Lowry’s fondness for the area in the stockbroker belt in Surrey has been shown in good results: his best finish was a runner-up in 2014 but he has had four top-10s in 11 outings and only missed the cut once (2016).
"I've had some decent success around here and I've shot some good scores and played some good rounds. I've not quite won around here but I've not been far away a couple of times and hopefully I can give it a bit of a run this week," said Lowry, who has shown consistency through the year - he hasn't missed a cut since the Arnold Palmer Invitational back in early March - although yet to get his hands on a trophy. His best finish was tied-fourth in the US PGA.
He added: “I feel like I would have liked to have obviously had a couple of more chances to win but I feel like my results have been quite good and quite steady and I’ve shot some very low scores over the last while. It’s been good but I can’t really complain about anything. My whole game feels pretty good.”
Lowry didn't qualify for the Tour Championship which was probably an act of good timing given the arrival of his second daughter and, while golf-wise he didn't get up to much last week, he did manage to watch the majority of the Solheim Cup where his former caddie Dermot Byrne was caddying for Leona Maguire.
“I was asking him about her a couple weeks ago. And he had said to me that she’s an unbelievable competitor and an unbelievable putter. She obviously showed that at the weekend. So it was a good call by him and it was an amazing win for them, and something that hopefully I’m part of the team in a couple of weeks and hopefully we can use that to go ahead and match what they did and win on American soil,” said Lowry.
For now, taking it one step at a time, the focus is on Wentworth and making his way as an automatic onto Europe’s team before getting the chance to emulate Maguire’s heroics.
Philip Reid’s BMW Championship Lowdown
Purse: €6.75 million (€1.1 million to the winner).
Where: Virginia Water, Surrey, England.
The course: The West Course – 7,267 yards Par 72 – was originally designed by Harry Colt (first played in 1926 – but, in more recent years, has seen a couple of renovations conducted by Ernie Els (firstly in 2005 and again more recently in 2017) which involved extensive rebunkering, lengthening of a number of holes and a complete overhaul of all 18 greens (with creeping bent grasses) to bring them up to USGA specifications. Els called it a "delicate balancing act" in seeking to stay true to Colt's original design philosophy while also trying to make it a modern day examination.
The field: Given it is the final counting event towards Europe's Ryder Cup qualification, the European Tour's flagship event has added weight with a large number of those with designs on making it to Whistling Straits playing (including six – Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Shane Lowry – who currently occupy automatic places). Add the likes of Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Billy Horschel into the mix and the field is among the strongest on the European circuit of the year.
Quote-Unquote: "I put a different set of irons in the bag [at the Tour Championship], which I played earlier in the year, and I had a great week. I feel like I'm still hit the irons pretty good. If I can just hit the ball in the fairway I'm going to give myself a lot of chances to make birdie," – Norway's Viktor Hovland, playing in the championship for just the second time.
Irish in the field: Jonny Caldwell with Shubhankar Sharma and Mikko Korhonen (10.05am), Graeme McDowell with Bob MacIntyre and Alex Noren (12.20pm), Pádraig Harrington with Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton (12.40pm), Shane Lowry with Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood (12.55pm), Cormac Sharvin with Ricardo Santos and Joel Stalter (2.45pm).
Betting: Viktor Hovland's only win this season came in raiding the BMW International and he's the bookies favourite at odds of 8-1 to drive on to another success at Wentworth . . . those odds seem a tad tight for a player only playing the West Course for a second time (he tied-11th in 2019). There could be better value found with the 18-1 about Tommy Fleetwood who has finally shown some signs of golfing form with a runner-up finish in Rome last week . . . Branden Grace (35-1) and Johannes Veerman (55-1) could provide some each-way value with markets generally paying on eight places.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 8.30am.