Monday 16 October 2017

Laid-back Lowry plans to drive off with BMW

Shane Lowry celebrates holing a birdie putt on the 18th green to take a share of the lead after the second day at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Shane Lowry celebrates holing a birdie putt on the 18th green to take a share of the lead after the second day at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty at Wentworth

The moment he steps off a golf course, Shane Lowry becomes an extraordinarily ordinary lad.

He reverts to being the sports-mad 27-year-old from Clara, with a passion for Gaelic games, his native Offaly, Kerry's football team and Leinster rugby.

So, it came as little surprise to learn that, as Lowry closed in on the most prestigious prize in European golf at Wentworth this week, he has chilled out each evening by kicking around a rugby ball with his coach Neil Manchip.

They were out there once again last night on the polo field behind the Royal Berkshire Hotel, just punting that oval ball around.

Lowry considers it a perfect way to unwind for potentially the biggest weekend so far of his career in professional golf ... yesterday he joined Dane Thomas Bjorn in the lead on 10-under par at the European Tour's flagship BMW PGA Championship.

"It's just the two of us like," said Lowry after signing for the second-round 70 that brought him within 36 holes of his third professional victory and only the second Irishman to lift this trophy, emulating Harry Bradshaw in 1958.

"I'll probably break my finger this evening," laughed the genial 6ft1ins Irishman, who suddenly shook off the lethargy of a frustrating year at the Spanish Open last week as he rediscovered his Midas touch with the putter.

Once again, Lowry's living up to his on-course reputation as one the most naturally gifted and hotly competitive young golfers produced by Ireland – and a potential winner on any occasion, as he showed by winning the 2009 Irish Open as a 22-year-old amateur.

Lowry showed his iron will on the West Course at Wentworth, rebounding from an unfortunate double-bogey six at the ninth hole with four birdies on the way home. This brought his tally in two rounds to 15, including the career-best 10 he landed in Thursday's 64.

After a course record 62 in the first round, Bjorn carved out a workmanlike 72 yesterday, but Lowry has the game to deny the 43-year-old veteran a 16th European Tour win tomorrow.

Remarkably, given the upheaval caused by this week's break-up with fiancée Caroline Wozniacki, Rory McIlroy thrust himself into a share of fifth place on five-under.

It's a measure of McIlroy's remarkable resilience that, despite performing in the centre ring of a self-made media circus, he's in contention at a tournament in which he usually struggles.

After following-up his opening 68 with an equally-spirited one-under-par 71 in wretched conditions yesterday morning, McIlroy admitted he'd exceeded even his own expectations by burrowing his way to five-under.

"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect and didn't know how I was going to feel," added McIlroy, who initially considered making the cut for the first time in three years at Wentworth an achievement.

RELEASE

"So, to be in here for the weekend and to be in with a chance is good."

"Once you get inside the ropes, you concentrate on your golf and it's almost like a nice four or five hours release – a chance to get everything out of your head and just do the job at hand."

The cold west wind that gusted and swirled forcefully through the trees was a nuisance, but McIlroy was well-served by the teeming rain. It softened usually bumpy, unpredictable fairways, giving him the opportunity to wield his power with less risk

Still, he made a rocky start. He followed bogey out of the deep, front trap at two with another out of the right fairway bunker at three and it looked ominous as he stumbled to a double-bogey six at seven, ironically, the scene of the first of his two thrilling eagles on Thursday.

Though a dispiriting three-over for his first seven holes, the 25-year-old yet again demonstrated the never-say-die attitude of recent months by steadying the ship through the turn and then playing the final seven in four-under.

This purple patch was sparked by his second eagle three in two days at 12, where he drew a monster drive around the dogleg, then hit a towering 187 yards 7-iron to eight feet.

Padraig Harrington embarked yesterday in a deluge of biblical proportions and he immediately found himself swimming against the tide after a double-bogey six at the first hole of the 76 that saw him plunge to one-over par and out of contention.

The Dubliner ruefully counted six misses from inside five feet among his 33 putts yesterday. "Every one of those six putts was from right to left," he explained. "I practiced my putting (on Thursday) and there was a particular right-to-left putt I kept missing. All day I was just freaked out. I couldn't convince myself to hit it."

Insisting this was just a blip, Harrington looked forward to going out early on a pristine course this weekend for two carefree rounds that should build "further momentum and confidence" going into Monday's 36-hole US Open qualifier at Walton Heath.

A superb second round 68 by Simon Thornton was beaten only by Luke Donald's 67, propelling the Newcastle, Co Down, local through the cut on two-over with Damien McGrane (75) as five of Ireland's 11 starters made the weekend.

Though Lowry's also scheduled to tee it up at Walton Heath on Monday, if he finishes first tomorrow, a starting place in Pinehurst next month will come with that bumper €791,660 winner's cheque.

BMW PGA CHAMPIONSHIP, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 12.00

CROWNE PLAZA INVITATIONAL, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.00

Irish Independent

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