Shane Lowry finds some welcome form as US PGA looms

The Irishman goes into this week’s competition as golf’s most recent Major winner

Shane Lowry of Ireland plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the St Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind. Photograph: Getty Images

Shane Lowry of Ireland plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the St Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind. Photograph: Getty Images

 

It may seem hard to believe but, with all that has happened over the course of the last few months, Shane Lowry goes into this week’s US PGA Championship at Harding Park as golf’s most recent Major winner.

It was all of 12 and a half months ago that Lowry lifted the claret jug at Royal Portrush in some of the most memorable scenes in Irish sporting history and now the Offalyman looks to have found some form heading into the first Major of the 2020 season.

Since the PGA Tour restarted in June, Lowry has missed three cuts and finished down the field at the Travelers Championship and the Workday Open. However, the tough conditions at TPC Southwind over the weekend brought out some of his best form with rounds of 68, 69, 67 and 67 securing him a tied-sixth finish and his second top 10 since his British Open win a year ago. As well as a cheque for $268,333.

Lowry’s final round was also bogey-free, a record he kept spectacularly intact on the 18th hole when he hit his tee shot into the water but then hit his third shot, from 183 yards after a drop, to two feet to save his par.

Lowry, along with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, will now travel west to Harding Park which sits in Lake Merced Park, south west of San Francisco. It will also be Tiger Woods’ second appearance since the season restarted after he finished tied-40th at the Memorial Tournament two weeks ago.

Lowry has played Harding Park just once before in tournament play, beating McDowell and losing to Rickie Fowler and Harris English in the group stages of the 2015 WGC-Accenture Matchplay which was eventually won by McIlroy.

And indeed the course should suit McIlroy again. Playing at just 7,234 yards it is short enough for a Major championship but when the famous San Francisco fog rolls in off the bay and the ground gets damp, it plays much longer.

Out of form

It’s now six years since McIlroy last won a Major championship - the 2014 US PGA - and the Northern Irishman knows his form must improve if he is to break that duck this year. Two rounds of 73 - on Thursday and Saturday - negated his 66 on Friday and 67 on Sunday in Memphis.

Even when not on form though, McIlroy’s stats off the tee are always impressive. He’s currently fourth on tour in strokes gained off the tee, but at 55th in strokes gained around the greens and 98th in strokes gained putting it’s clear to see where the flaws currently lie.

McIlroy has spoken in the last while about how he finds it difficult to get up for tournaments with no crowds and how the Majors this year will feel very much the same as a regular PGA Tour event. However, after regaining his world number one spot before the Covid-19 shutdown before losing it to Jon Rahm two weeks ago - who then lost it to Justin Thomas on Sunday - perhaps McIlroy can find that spark that he needs to get back to the top.

Brooks Koepka played some excellent golf in Memphis last week. Photograph: EPA
Brooks Koepka played some excellent golf in Memphis last week. Photograph: EPA

The lack of crowds certainly didn’t seem to affect Thomas on Sunday who put on a display of sublime approach play down the stretch, capitalising on lucky breaks on the 15th and 16th to get up and down for birdies before finishing the job off with a gutsy up and down for par on the 18th.

“It was a hard-fought day,” said Thomas. “Besides that terrible wedge on 12, I played so well for 14 holes. I drove the ball just perfectly. I realistically could have birdied my first 10 holes today and that is kind of bizarre to say.”

But perhaps the most ominous sign for the rest of the field at Harding Park was Brooks Koepka finding some form which saw him chase Thomas down on the final day, eventually coming up three shots short after a closing double bogey.

Beware

Koepka had missed two cuts and recorded just one top-10 since the season restarted in June but put paid to any doubts about his form in Memphis when he got to 10 under on Friday before slipping to four under at one stage on Saturday. Only to battle back and take the lead at one point in the final round.

This week Koepka will look to make it three US PGA victories in a row after winning the Wanamaker Trophy at Bethpage Black last year and at Bellerive the year before.

At the week’s opposite field PGA Tour event - the stableford scoring Barracuda Championship in California - Séamus Power finished in a tie for ninth at +32, seven points behind eventual winner Richy Werenski.

A birdie on the 72nd hole was enough for the Waterford man to nab the finish he needed to play his way into next week’s Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour.

On the European Tour the English Championship takes centre stage this week at Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire where Cormac Sharvin, Jonathan Caldwell and Paul Dunne make up the Irish contingent.

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