Buoyed by his first win as a professional last Sunday week on the Algarve, Clara lad Lowry burst into contention in China with a superlative second-round 64.
He went into the weekend tied fourth in a world-class field on eight-under, six off the blistering pace set by Swedish Ryder Cup ace Peter Hanson and four shy of second-placed McIlroy.
Importantly, Lowry was bang on course for the top-five finish tomorrow which would propel him into the world's top-50.
As one would expect of this gregarious 25-year-old, Lowry made sure last week to mark his win at the Portuguese Masters win in style. "I probably did a little too much celebrating," he chuckled. "But there are so many hard times in golf, you have to celebrate the good ones.
"Yet I got out here early, did a good bit of practice and, thankfully, didn't lose any of the form I had in Portugal," he added, plainly delighted to make eight birdies and no bogeys yesterday.
Lowry showed his potential with his sensational win as an amateur at the 2009 Irish Open, but had to wait 40 months to win as a pro -- now that barrier has been breached, his career is expected to take off.
Admitting a triple-bogey eight at the third on Thursday "really shook me", Lowry recovered well to post a first-round 72 before ripping into top gear with his lowest round in 18 months.
"I was three-under after nine," he explained. "Cruising really, then I made four birdies on the spin (through 16) and even missed a couple of opportunities at 17 and 18."
Lowry likes Lake Malaren's wide-open fairways and underlined his precise iron-play by finding 17 of 18 greens.
Yet this long golf course should suit McIlroy best, especially as the fairways are a little soft, giving him the chance to open his shoulders, as he did in style during a flawless second-round 65.
McIlroy, who landed a $2m first prize in an unsanctioned event on this course last October, is a warm favourite to extend his lead in the Race to Dubai with his fifth win of 2012 tomorrow.
He enjoyed his first Tour round together with fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey yesterday, even if the latter's putter was cold as a 70 left him tied eighth on seven-under. "Rory's very easy to play with," said Hoey.
"He's got great rhythm and you can feed off that a bit. He's also a nice guy, incredibly grounded considering he's world No 1."
Hanson's competitive edge was sharpened by the Ryder Cup. The Swede made no secret of his frustration at playing just two of five matches at Medinah, his anger exacerbated by a communications lapse in the European camp.
The opportunity to make a point to skipper Jose Maria Olazabal and 10 of his Ryder Cup team-mates this weekend helped him rebound from a first-hole bogey to match the 64s posted by Robert Karlsson and, of course, Lowry.
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