The reality of Shane Lowry's return to work was graphically displayed in a social media post from the European Tour over the weekend, which showed the golfer's hands complete with welts and blisters from his hard work on the range. Officially, it would seem, his winter's break – hoovering up awards left, right and centre – has come and gone.
Lowry's sore hands were the result of disciplined work on the range and out the course during a pre-season stop-off in Dubai, where he prepared for a return to action at this week's Hong Kong Open – originally scheduled for last November but postponed due to civil unrest in the territory – which kick-starts a four-week string on the road that features a defence of the Abu Dhabi Championship next week, followed by outings in Dubai and Saudi Arabia on the PGA European Tour's Middle East swing.
In his capacity as British Open champion, Lowry is one of the main attractions at Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, which belatedly takes place two months later than originally scheduled. Among other top names in the 120-player field are American Tony Finau and Asian Tour order of merit winner Jazz Janewattananond.
The Hong Kong Open was originally co-sanctioned by the European Tour but, due to the change in date and a clash with the South African Open, it is solely an Asian Tour event. Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari, who had committed to playing back in November, were unable to fulfil those commitments in the rearranged scheduled.
Lowry has been out of competitive action since finishing tied-12th the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November but has a strong itinerary to kick-start 2020, focusing on the European Tour – and seeking to add Ryder Cup points – before switching over to the PGA Tour Stateside. He is the sole Irishman in the field in Hong Kong. This will be the 61st edition of the tournament, which has been won twice by Irish players, Pádraig Harrington in 2003 and Rory McIlroy in 2011.
The Hong Kong Open's new date has meant a clash in the schedule with the South African Open at Randpark in Johannesburg, which is a dual European Tour-Sunshine Tour sanctioned tournament. South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, playing on a medical extension, and Branden Grace are the headline acts for the European Tour's first event of 2020.
Dubliner Conor Purcell, the 22-year-old former Walker Cup player and last year's Australian amateur champion, moved into the professional ranks at the New South Wales Open in November and has since joined Wasserman sports management, the same agency that includes Rickie Fowler among its global clients.
Purcell has earned a sponsor's invitation into the field in Jo'burg this week where he is joined by fellow-Dubliner Gavin Moynihan and Ulsterman Jonathan Caldwell.
The addition of world number six Patrick Cantlay to the field for next week's Abu Dhabi Championship – which already includes world number one Brooks Koepka, returning to action after recovering from a knee injury which forced him out of last year's Presidents Cup – has further strengthened the Rolex Series tournament.
“I’m very excited to play for the first time in Abu Dhabi, I’ve heard great things about the course, the fans and the experience,” said Cantlay in confirming his debut appearance in the tournament. “I’m looking forward to competing against some of the best players in the world and to try and take home the Falcon Trophy.”
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell is the lone Irishman in the field for the Sony Open in Honolulu on the PGA Tour this week. McDowell finished tied-23rd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions on his first outing of 2020. Justin Thomas, with three wins in his last seven starts on tour, and Matt Kuchar, who is looking to become just the fourth player to successfully defend the title. The feat was last achieved by Jimmy Walker who won back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.