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Aggressive approach costs Lowry but top 50 place remains in sight

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Shane Lowry watches his approach to the 10th during the third round of the Turkish Airlines Open

Shane Lowry watches his approach to the 10th during the third round of the Turkish Airlines Open

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Shane Lowry watches his approach to the 10th during the third round of the Turkish Airlines Open

Words were almost superfluous as Shane Lowry attempted to convey the disappointment of twice playing the 18th hole poorly in the $7m Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya yesterday.

His down-at-heel demeanour spoke volumes about a level-par 72 which left him on eight-under par, four strokes off the lead at the end of play. It is not a bad place to be, entering a final round in which Lowry must finish no lower than eighth on his own, to secure a place in the world's top 50. Yet he insisted: "I was stupid - too aggressive. I was expecting Poults to shoot a few under."

Instead, overnight leader Ian Poulter slipped to a 75, while Australian Wade Ormsby swept to the top on 12-under. One player, Alejandro Canizares, failed to finish in fading light.

Electric storms caused play to be suspended at lunchtime on Friday, by which stage Lowry had a three-foot birdie putt on the 15th; subsequently despatched when he resumed yesterday morning. Then, in pushing hard to chase down the leader, over-aggression cost him a shot at the long, treacherous 18th.

Even with a second-round 66, he was still six strokes behind the Englishman. Yet considerable progress was made before he bogeyed the 18th once more, this time in taking four to get down from a very demanding greenside bunker.

Lowry's play for much of the opening two rounds was characterised by all that's strong in his game. Like solid, straight driving, much-improved iron play and one of the best pitching actions on tour. Yet, ironically, it took a bogey to avert a potentially dismal week.

Having started on the 10th on Thursday, he was two-over par when he lost his ball in a tree after a wayward approach to the 17th. That was where he got down in two more for an unlikely bogey which provided the impetus to cover the remaining 10 holes in five-under par.

"I bogeyed too many par-fives for my own good," Lowry added. "And with good weather expected, it will probably take 15 or 16-under to win. As to my strategy: to be honest, my head's all over the place at the moment. We'll see."

As an absorbing sideline, Colin Montgomerie made valiant, if unavailing, attempts at modesty when informing us "you'd have to pinch me if you told me this was going to happen . . . your 600th tour event and you're playing on a course that you designed." Also noted were 31 tournament victories only one of which, to his surprise, was achieved wire to wire. And it happened to be the Irish Open at Fota Island in 2001.

Meanwhile, in staging this, the penultimate event on the Road to Dubai, Turkey has become a remarkable sporting story, especially in golf. Imagine the raised eyebrows if the Czech Republic, for instance, happened to bid for the Ryder Cup. Even though they have more than 100 golf courses including Marianske Lazne which had the distinction of staging their first European Tour event back in 1994, 18 months after the demise of Czechoslovakia.

Turkey, by comparison, has only 21 courses and entered top-flight tournament golf only last year with this event. Yet their hat is very much in the ring for the Ryder Cup in 2022, the next European staging after 2018 in Paris. As Akif Cagatay Kilic, their minister for youth and sports put it last week: "There is competition, but I don't think we will shy away from anything that is put in our way." Including building a new course specifically for the event.

Through sponsorship from Turkish Airlines, their main involvement in golf so far, has been at amateur level, with 50 tournaments around the world, including Ireland. And as many as 100 are planned for next year as part of a strategy to project a new, welcoming image through sport, with no expense spared.

Indeed Turkey's ultimate target is to play host to the Olympic Games. To this end, Minister Kilic pointed to greater Turkish representation in the various international sports organisations, while they have European Tour commitments for this weekend's tournament and Challenge Tour events, extending to 2024.

Ahmet Agaoglu, president of the Turkish Golf Federation, then prompted some forced smiles here among European Tour officials when claiming that it was cheaper for someone to fly from London for a golfing week in Antalya, than the "huge money" it cost him to attend the Ryder Cup, given that he was based 75km from Gleneagles. Which, interestingly, was my own experience.

Making the top 50 in the world rankings by year-end, has become synonymous with qualification for the US Masters. Which led me to tell Lowry about a chat I had with Paul McGinley in April 2001, a year before the Dubliner made his Augusta debut. Describing his fascination with the place, McGinley went on to recount several invitations he had declined to play there as a member's guest.

"Because I want to earn the right to be there," he explained. Lowry smiled. "I know exactly what he meant," he said. "I felt the very same way in 2013 when I had the chance of joining the other guys in the house Horizon [his agents] had at Augusta for Masters week.

"I had just played the Valero Open on an invite and with a week off before going to New Orleans, Conor Ridge thought I might enjoy taking it easy and walking the practice rounds with G-Mac. But to be honest, I couldn't think of anything worse. So I said no, went home to Ireland and returned to the States the following week."

He continued: "The same applies to the Ryder Cup. I wouldn't dream of going to it if I wasn't playing. That makes me all the more determined on a serious move up the world rankings. And I'm not just thinking top 50. I know I'm good enough to be looking at the top 30."

Currently 51st, Lowry views his status with mixed feelings. "All this talk of the top 50 has been driving me mad for the last couple of years," he said. "But the other side of the coin is that I really feel comfortable at the highest level. I feel I can compete against anyone.

"I'm very much aware that qualifying for the top tournaments is not enough in itself. I've got to perform in them. And where the Masters is concerned, the sooner I get there the better, because, by all accounts, it's going to take a few attempts to feel comfortable there. And I would certainly like to feel fully acclimatised in, say, five years from now."

With the right focus, Augusta beckons.

Sunday Indo Sport