Shane Lowry faces challenge as Snake Pit looms in Tampa
Offaly man must finish at least seventh to earn spot in WGC Matchplay Championship
Shane Lowry man must finish at least seventh in the Valspar Championship, Tampa, to earn a spot in the WGC Matchplay Championship. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Another week, another deadline for Shane Lowry; and the Offaly man will aim to avoid any disasters over the stretch of holes known as the Snake Pit – the 16th, 17th and 18th finishing holes at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook in Tampa, Florida – when he competes in the Valspar Championship, his last chance to make it into the field for the Dell WGC Matchplay Championship.
Lowry is down to 75th in the latest world rankings, and requires a minimum of a two-way tie for seventh in the Valspar if he is to gatecrash his way into the limited 64-player field for the matchplay championship which takes place in two weeks’ time (March 21st-25th).
The exemption cut-off for the leading available 64 players off the world rankings for the matchplay comes after the Valspar.
If he is to earn a spot, Lowry needs a big improvement in form. Having moved to a Florida base with his family to facilitate a better playing schedule, Lowry has yet to find form: so far, he has gone missed cut (Farmers Insurance), tied-65th (Phoenix Open), tied-43rd (Pebble Beach pro-am), missed cut (Genesis Open) and tied-49th (Honda Classic).
As of now, Rory McIlroy – who is making a debut appearance in the Valspar at Copperhead, a course with narrow fairways and difficult greens which has a reputation for rewarding those who can plot their way around – is the only Irish player qualified to play in the Dell Matchplay. Paul Dunne, who is not playing this week, required a top-15 finish in Mexico but struggled – with driving accuracy of 35 per cent and hitting only 50 per cent of greens in regulation – to a tied-55th finish.
Five Irish men – Lowry, McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington and Séamus Power – are in the field at Copperhead, with Power getting in off the alternate list.
McIlroy resumes tournament play having worked with his coach Michael Bannon in Florida in recent days. Player and coach placed the emphasis on iron play, an area of McIlroy’s game which disappointed in a tied-59th finish at the Honda Classic.
The Co Down golfer has listed his busiest schedule ahead of next month’s US Masters – where he is seeking the missing leg of the career Grand Slam – and will follow up the Valspar with an appearance at next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and then the Dell, which will be his final outing ahead of the Masters.
McIlroy is not the only player debuting in the Valspar at Copperhead: Tiger Woods, too, is making a first appearance in the tournament having decided to add it along with next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational (where he is an eight-time career winner) to his itinerary in the build-up to Augusta.
Woods, traditionally, didn’t include the Valspar championship in a limited, carefully planned schedule ahead of the US Masters (which he has won four times). On this occasion, having made a positive impact since resuming tournament play following a long layoff after undergoing spinal fusion surgery, Woods has committed to back-to-back tournaments. His best finish since his return to action was a tied-12th at the Honda.
However, even a win for Woods this week – he is currently ranked 388th – would not propel him sufficiently high in the world rankings to make it into the field for the Dell Matchplay, a tournament he has won three times in his career.