SHANE Lowry's sparkling 66 in the second round of the Open de Espana sets him up for a weekend challenge at the testing Parador de El Saler course in Valencia.
What a turnaround in fortunes for the man from Clara, County Offaly. An opening 78 suggested he would struggle to make the cut, but yesterday's six-under-par 66 put Lowry in the mood for a tilt at the top of the leaderboard.
"I've got a great chance now. If I can break 70 tomorrow I feel I'll be right there in the mix. I really believe the winning score in this tournament is not going to be very low because it's very tough out there," said Lowry.
His 78-66 for a level-par 144 total left the 26-year-old only six behind leader Peter Uihlein of the US whose 68 brought him to 138. Behind Uihlein on five-under-par 139 were Felipe Aguilar (Chile), Raphael Jacquelin of France and Sweden's Rikard Karlberg.
Aguilar was a joint first-round leader on four-under and shot 71 yesterday. Jacquelin joined Lowry as the only other player to return a 66 in round two, and Karlberg's 67 moved him 40 places up the leaderboard after an opening 72.
Ironically for Lowry, the strong seaside breeze was a factor when he played in the morning, but the afternoon players got a break when the wind dropped.
However, he wasn't concerned about anyone else. After a chat on Thursday night with Dublin-based coach Neil Manchip, Lowry went out yesterday happy that his game was in good shape.
His composure and body language didn't change over the two days, and in the second round Lowry got the measure of the greens that defied his best efforts on Thursday.
"I was very relaxed the first day and I actually played well. The problem was I had 36 putts. If I missed the green I wasn't getting up and down, and then I wasn't hitting it close enough to the hole for birdies, so it was just a vicious circle really. Neil watched me from home and I actually didn't think I played that badly yesterday, so I knew I had a score in me," said Lowry.
"The two of us (Neil and himself) felt that I should just keep doing what I'm doing. I felt like if I could shoot a decent score today it would give me a bit of confidence going into next week (Ballantine's Championship).
"But the main thing was to avoid shooting another over-par score today."
Starting on the 10th tee, the Carton House tournament professional opened with a birdie three. He then followed that with a lovely driver and three-wood to the middle of the next green, with two putts making it a handy birdie four on the par-five 11th.
He also birdied the 13th, but a good par save on the par-five 15th – his sixth hole – was crucial to maintaining momentum. "That was huge. I got caught up in that clingy ice plant stuff off the tee and had to hack out. I was going in for my third shot with a three-wood, and missed the green, but I got up and down for par," said Lowry.
A haul of seven birdies overall was very satisfactory. The only blemish on Lowry's card was a bogey six on the par-five third hole, which was his 12th, when he lipped out for a six after taking four to get down from a bad lie in a run-off area beside the green.
David Higgins, who was best of the Irish with 69 on Thursday, battled hard for a 75 to join Lowry in the group at level-par for the tournament.
Peter Lawrie (71, 74), winner of this championship in 2008, and Gareth Maybin (74, 71) were on one-over-par 145.
"I was hoping to put myself in a good position after shooting one-over yesterday but it didn't happen. I played OK and my game is in pretty good shape," said Lawrie.
Damien McGrane (+3, 147), Michael Hoey (+7, 151) and amateur Reeve Whitson (+14, 158) all missed the cut.
Open de Espana,
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