FATES are conspiring on opposite sides of the planet to keep Shane Lowry on tenterhooks.
Several of Lowry's rivals for a place in the upcoming Accenture Match Play Championship got off to a flying start at tournaments in South Africa and the US.
Richard Sterne (31), who stormed into a share of the lead at the Joburg Open with an eight-under-par 63, will knock Lowry out of the world's top 64 should be complete his second victory in five years at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club this weekend.
Neither was there much peace of mind for Lowry at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Several of the 24 players who set out on three courses at this $6.5m extravaganza with a chance of leap-frogging the Irishman into the 64-man Accenture field were clustered close to the top of the early leaderboard.
Ted Potter Jr and Matt Every both shot 67s on a benign day at Pebble Beach to lie within one of Scot Russell Knox's clubhouse lead. They were level on five-under with Yeung-Sul Noh.
Potter, Every and Noh need to win to overhaul Lowry, but Brendon de Jonge, who shot three-under 67 at Monterey Peninsula, need only finish seventh or better, while Kevin Na, who posted a sweet 68 at Spyglass, will do the trick if he finishes in the top four.
It doesn't look as if Padraig Harrington will be in a position to do his fellow Irishman any favours after he dropped three shots in the final eight holes of his lack-lustre 72 at Spyglass.
In a muted opening to the defence of the team title they shared last year, Harrington and his amateur partner JP McManus were eight off the early pace on three-under after their collective 69.
Yet anyone hoping to prevail on Sunday must overcome defending champion and Phoenix winner Phil Mickelson; his closest challenger last week Brandt Snedeker and the likes of Lee Westwood, who purred to an accomplished opening 68 at Pebble Beach.
Westwood played with Vijay Singh, who stumbled to a level-par 72 in his first competitive round since admitting he'd been squirting a deer antler spray under his tongue, unaware it contained IGF-1, a banned growth hormone.
South African Sterne shared the lead in Johannesburg with Germany's European Tour rookie Maximilian Kieffer (22) – both played the easier West Course yesterday.
Among five wins European Tour wins, Sterne has prevailed three times in his homeland, including the 2008 Joburg Open. Severe back problems interrupted his career but he came back on tour in 2012 and returned to top form with his runner-up finish in Dubai last week.
Arguably, the day's best round was the seven-under 65 on the more challenging East Course which vaulted Bryce Easton, into third. The Sunshine Tour regular landed an ace on the 183-yard 12th, holing with his 7-iron.
Sterne is one of three in Johannesburg who threaten Lowry. Danny Willett, who also must win to overtake the Irishman, birdied two of his final three holes for a two-under 70 on the West Course. Swede Kristoffer Broberg needs only a top-two but wallowed in 117th.
Damien McGrane's putter was hot as he rebounded from a bogey at one for a five-under 66 on the West Course, which David Higgins played in 71. Gareth Maybin opened with a 74, albeit on the more difficult track.
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