Shane Lowry has Ryder Cup in sight as he starts Irish Open quest

British Open winner has only won his home event once - as an amateur in 2009

Shane Lowry carries his clubs during practice for this week’s Irish Open. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty

Shane Lowry carries his clubs during practice for this week’s Irish Open. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty

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The preponderance of players’ wearing shorts in the pre-tournament pro-am at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open provided its own real-life analogy that perhaps sunnier days really do lie ahead. Inside their European Tour bubble - with daily health testing, sanitisers and masks all part of the daily routine - the players have had to adapt, but this latest staging of the old championship on its return after a 26-year absence to Mount Juliet has, so far, oozed positivity.

Maybe it’s the nice weather (for now), or being cocooned inside a five-star estate, but Shane Lowry - yes, one of those in shorts - was among those very much at home in the environment and ready to take aim at a second Irish Open title, this time as a professional.

“I didn’t know what it was about back then,” recalled Lowry of that win at Baltray as an amateur that seemed plucked from the pages of fiction. “I just rocked up thinking this was another tournament and I went home with the trophy on the Sunday.”

Remarkably, for a player who has scaled the heights as a Major champion (winning the Claret Jug in 2019, which will be returned to the care of the R&A at Royal St Georges in a fortnight’s time) and also lifted a WGC title in a glowing professional CV, the Irish Open of all tournaments has proven to be rather difficult.

In the 11 times he has since attempted to replicate the audaciousness of his win at Co Louth, Lowry has come up short with just one top-10 - a tied-fifth finish in 2013 - to go with an array of those in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and three missed cuts for good measure.

For this latest crack, his 12th as a professional and 13th of his career, Lowry has arrived in fine fettle and rightly numbered among the tournament favourites that also include Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Christiaan Bezuidenhuit and Martin Kaymer. Although, with the propensity for low scoring on a finely conditioned golf course but playing somewhat shorter than the norm on tour, the prospect of someone getting hot with the putter makes for an open field.

Johnny Sexton in action during Wednesday’s Irish Open pro-am. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty
Johnny Sexton in action during Wednesday’s Irish Open pro-am. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty

Lowry laboured with the putter on the poa annua greens at the US Open at Torrey Pines, which proved something of an outlier in his recent form which included a tied-fourth finish at the US PGA and a tied-6th at the Memorial.

Having made a change with his putter earlier in the season, changing his grip after the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill back in March, Lowry has generally been consistent: “I feel like I’ve been pretty good. There’s been certain rounds that have not been great but, more often than not, I’ve been pretty solid the way I’m putting. Everyone has their bad weeks. I felt I needed to do something to try to become more consistent, and I did. I certainly think some of my form has been down to being comfortable over putts and over short putts.”

Having spent the first half of the year stateside, this Irish Open commences a non-stop summer of big tournaments globally. From here, it is on to the belated defence of the Claret Jug in a fortnight - with the intention to spend next week preparing on links courses on the east coast - and then onwards to the Olympics in Tokyo. The arrival of his team kit inside the last week providing reality to that dream. “It just would be really cool to win a medal, something that I could tick off my list and be very proud of and happy with.”

And, of course, there is the ongoing quest to make Europe’s Ryder Cup team. “As regards toward the Ryder Cup, I’ve had some good weeks and put myself pretty close to the team. I think some good golf over the next couple of months will take care of that.

“It’s been my main goal for the whole year and for the last two years, and I really feel like that’s there in front of me now and it up for me to kind of go and reel it in or go and grab it by the scruff of the neck and go and get it.”

In the here and now, it is this tournament - so close to his heart - just an hour and a half’s drive from his family home in Clara that has the potential to kick-start it all.

“The only thing I’d be looking to take from this week would be trying to build confidence (for the British Open) and trying to get up upper there and trying to win a tournament. I think if I could do that, I’d be pretty happy leaving Sunday night,” acknowledged Lowry.

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