Lowry right in the hunt after sizzling 66
SHANE LOWRY eased alongside Phil Mickelson in a tie for third place at the Scottish Open with a relatively stress-free 66 on the links at Castle Stuart.
"I didn't feel I played great but anytime you shoot 66 it's a good day, so I'm happy enough," said the 26-year-old Clara native with a nonchalant shrug that spoke chapters for his confidence.
Like Mickelson, Lowry took an early shot across the bows, in the shape of a bogey on his first hole, the 10th, but he took heed of it, going on to reap a rich harvest of seven birdies in idyllic, sun-splashed conditions on the Moray Firth.
"I love playing off links turf and on links greens," Lowry enthused.
"I grew up playing links golf so I love being back here at Castle Stuart and I'm looking forward to next week (the British Open at Muirfield) as well.
"It's very, very generous off the tee here and I think that's why you're seeing low scores," he explained. "If it was a bit tighter off the tee, the course would be very tough because it's not so generous into the greens.
"Every par-five plays easy and there's two driveable par-fours, so you should be picking up shots there."
That's precisely what he did, throwing in another birdie at the par-four fifth for good measure.
Lowry finished 14th on the Scottish Open's first visit to Castle Stuart two years ago and shared 11th place last year.
However, such has been the pace of his development over the past 12 months, especially since his Portugal Masters win last October, he'll really fancy his chances.
Having given such good account of himself in a tie for fifth at the recent Irish Open at his 'home' club Carton House, Lowry clearly is performing in a pressure-free environment in Scotland and should be worth watching over the next few days.
In all, seven players shot six-under yesterday to lie two off the pace set by John Parry with a flawless 64. The 26-year-old Englishman, winner of European Tour Q-School last winter, led fellow countryman Simon Khan by one overnight.
Ireland's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley compiled his lowest round of the season, an impressive 67, to join Damien McGrane and 11 others in a tie for 10th place.
McGinley's duties as European skipper and a couple of bouts of back trouble have limited him to just eight appearances on Tour this year but the 46-year-old Dubliner certainly hit the ground running yesterday.
After doing a stint to camera in the Sky Sports studio in the morning, McGinley got straight into birdie-scoring action. He opened his tournament with a hat-trick of birdies and, after dropping a shot at the fifth, rebounded brilliantly with an eagle-three at the sixth, followed by another birdie to lie five-under through seven.
Kells man McGrane started on the opposite side of the course and in contrary fashion. Two-over-par through his first five holes, he racked up six birdies in seven holes from the 15th and landed another at the sixth.
"It's nice to shoot five-under," said McGrane. "It gets me up and running for the tournament. This is a very good test. There's a lot of variety and you have to play for position a lot. I like that.
"You have to be clever out there. You have to think your way around and the birdies will come slowly but surely. I went from plus-two to five-under so I have to be happy with that."
Darren Clarke, clearly enjoying a day by the seaside, picked up three birdies and scrambled nicely for a fairly decent bogey-free round of 69 to claim a share of 45th with Gareth Maybin and Simon Thornton.
Padraig Harrington faces another Friday battling to make the cut after shooting a two-under par 70 in Mickelson's company.
While the American made eagle at the par-five 12th, their third hole, Harrington stumbled to a double-bogey seven and had to wait until 18 to land his first birdie, though he did pick up another three on the front nine.
Remarkably, given the generosity of Castle Stuart off the tee, Harrington managed to find just five of 14 fairways.
Though he made 13 greens in regulation, he left himself a lot of work to do with that belly-putter.
David Higgins was back in 98th after a one-under 71, while Michael Hoey shot 74 and Peter Lawrie 77.
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