independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Gritty Lowry proves he's a man for all seasons

Shane Lowry has put himself in prime position to claim a big cheque at Wentworth
Shane Lowry has put himself in prime position to claim a big cheque at Wentworth

RORY McILROY and Graeme McDowell were both washed out of the BMW PGA Championship as Shane Lowry burst into the limelight by playing "the best round I've ever shot" on a day for true heroes at Wentworth.

Lowry endorsed his reputation as a man for all seasons in appallingly cold, wet and windswept conditions on the West Course.

For any Irish watching the 26-year-old emerge from this maelstrom with a second-round 71 and a share of eighth place on three-under with Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and several others was reminiscent of a stormy Sunday at Baltray four years ago when Lowry historically won the Irish Open as an amateur.

"Ah, I can't remember that day, it was so long ago," said Lowry. Point taken! Since 2009, he has evolved into a comprehensively better golfer, a confident, accomplished professional capable of winning Europe's glittering, €4.75m showpiece.

"I believe the weather's supposed to be a bit decent tomorrow," said Lowry, looking forward to feeling the sun on his back after the toughest day grizzled Wentworth veterans Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke can recall on Surrey's famous Burma Road.

Italian Ryder Cup star Francesco Molinari grabbed the 36-hole lead with a superlative 68. Yet Lowry, just three behind and assured by his first win as a pro in last October's Portugal Masters, was one of several players entitled to fancy their chances of pocketing this weekend's €800,000 first prize.

"I love this golf course and feel like it suits me," said the Clara man, who tied fourth at Wentworth in 2011. "I feel like I can play well around here, so there's no reason I can't contend."

McIlroy's view of the West Course couldn't be more different, though he struggled to put his finger on the precise reason why he's struggled on the West Course since it was extensively revamped by Els four years ago.

"I was talking to G-Mac about it," said McIlroy after he and playing companion McDowell had signed for the 75s which left them three shots beyond the pale on five-over. "His best finish around here is tied 13th and mine's fifth," McIlroy added. "And when I had the fifth place, it was before the changes were made."

On Thursday, McIlroy shook off intense controversy stirred by news of his impending move from Horizon Sports to set up a management team of his own and played the opening 12 holes of this championship in three-under.

CRAMPED

Yet the complexion of his tournament changed with the weather as McIlroy made five bogeys in the final six holes of his first round ... and there was little chance of the World No 2 making up lost ground in conditions which cramped his style and his swing.

"I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into some golf where I'm not playing in four layers," sighed the Holywood native, expected this weekend to head for Paris, where girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki is scheduled to play in the French Open. He then returns to sunnier climes for next week's Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.

"It's the same for everyone out there, and that's not really an excuse," added McIlroy. "I just didn't play well. In these conditions, I try to do too much with the ball sometimes and start to hit bad shots, which obviously cost me."

His good friend McDowell found a little consolation at once again failing to make the weekend on a course which plainly doesn't suit him by referring to his recent sequence of results, which include a missed cut at the Masters, victory at Heritage, missed cut at Sawgrass, victory at the Volvo World Match Play.

"What's my next event," he asked, adding wryly: "The US Open ... yep, couldn't have asked for better preparation! You know, I'd take missed cut every time if it always was followed by a win. Mind you, I really would've liked to play this weekend. This is a great event."

After playing just four events so far in an injury-hit year, Clarke's pleasure at showing all his craft in the wind and, for a change, holing a few putts was palpable after the accomplished two-under-par 70 which sent him through halfway in a tie for 28th on even-par.

Ryder Cup captain McGinley (46) clearly still has some game after playing the first 30 holes here without a bogey. Though the gruelling conditions took their toll down the stretch in his second round 75, he still made the cut on the mark, two-over.

McGinley played with Lowry and plainly was impressed. "Shane was very good. He had to battle on the front nine and then played really well, making up a lot of ground with four birdies into the teeth of the wind on those last six holes. He really is a fine player."

BMW PGA Championship, Day 3

Live, Sky Sports 2, 12.30

The Crown Plaza Invitational,

Live, sky sports 2, 7.0

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