Lowry launches a strong opening salvo at Oakmont
Shane Lowry has entered a new comfort zone with the ambience and demands of Major championship golf, and it showed yesterday.
Lowry, 29, is older than some of the young hot shots on Tour, but he is relatively inexperienced at the summit of the game.
Yesterday, playing six holes to complete the first round he started at 8.35am on Thursday in the US Open at Oakmont, he signed for 68, two-under par, which was just two off the clubhouse lead set by surprise packet Andrew Landry of the USA.
This was only Lowry's ninth round in his fourth US Open, and was his best score in the championship.
The good news comes with a slight caveat: last April at The Masters, he also started well, shooting 68, which was four-under for Augusta National.
From there, he carded 76, 79 and 75 for his next three Masters rounds.
He has also opened with scores in the 60s at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix (65), the Honda Classic (67), and The Players Championship (67) and, of these, his best finish was tied-sixth at Phoenix.
That said, the 'Big Three', Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy would have paid a king's ransom if they could have purchased Lowry's 68 from the Offaly man.
Day shot 76, six-over par, for his first round, Spieth finished on two-over, and McIlroy was on seven-over.
It all augurs well for the ongoing development of the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion.
Asked if he was now confident about his prospects, Lowry replied:
"I would say more comfortable as opposed to confident. The first time you play a golf course like this, it's always more difficult. The fact that I'm playing over here a lot more, it helps in these tournaments, I feel.
"So, yeah, more comfortable in my surroundings. Even simple things like knowing different players, knowing players in the locker room, it just makes it easier.
"Last year at the US Open has helped me a lot. I contended there, and felt like I played really well coming down the stretch on Sunday.
"Obviously, my win in Akron was something that I can always look back on, and the way I played the last few holes there was great," said Lowry.
USGA officials have battled to get the tournament, which was lashed by storms and three weather delays on Thursday, back on track, but the entire field of 156 was affected in some way over the first two days.
Only nine players finished round one on schedule, and 78, including Jason Day and Graeme McDowell, did not hit a shot in anger on Thursday.
Others, with McIlroy and Lowry in that category, got a certain amount of play completed, but were obliged to come back yesterday to finish off.
McDowell (72, two-over) and Day had little time to reflect on their first rounds, as they were due for second round action later in the afternoon at 3.47pm local time (8.47pm Irish time) and 4.20pm (9.20pm Irish).
The course was drying out under the bright sunshine and the wind strength increased throughout the day, factors which could only ramp up the demands on concentration and course management.
Lowry, meanwhile, could afford to relax. His job complete, he had time to chill out before embarking on his second round at 8.50am (1.50pm Irish) today.
Birdies at the par-four 14th, and the 17th, where he pitched from rough 30 yards away to inside three feet, were the bonus features of his six holes yesterday.
Equally important were key par saves on the 15th where he got up and down from greenside rough for a four, and a great two-putt from 35 feet on the par-three 16th.
Rory McIlroy needed some surgery on his errant swing and was working on that in the afternoon.
He found himself playing a little too much 'military golf', as in left rough, right rough and bunkers off tee-shots, to gain any traction in the elongated first round.
Eight bogeys, only one birdie, and nines of 37-40 for 77 required action from the world No 3.
His statistics said it all.
McIlroy hit only five of 14 fairways, eight of 18 greens in regulation, and took 34 putts.
"Whenever you're not really in control of what you're doing out there and struggling with your golf game, it was sort of just compounded by the fact that it was so stop and start, and I just really struggled," McIlroy said.
"Honestly, I've been struggling with my swing, even the practice rounds a little bit.
"For me, the toughest thing is just trying to stay positive and not get too down on myself and try to go out there, and try to play well and make it into the weekend."
Journeyman pro Landry holed a 10-footer for birdie on the ninth, his 18th hole, for his lead on 66.
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