Saturday 7 December 2019

Fearless Shane Lowry shows Major quality to master Bear Trap


Shane Lowry plays a shot on the 8th hole during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Florida. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.
Shane Lowry plays a shot on the 8th hole during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Florida. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

Brian Keogh At palm beach gardens

Shane Lowry proved he's a Major winner in waiting with a sensational birdie-eagle finish giving him a share of the clubhouse lead in the wind-blown Honda Classic.

The Offaly ace has clearly moved up a level with his win in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last year and he's not just backing himself to make the Ryder Cup team the hard way by taking on Europe's US-based stars such as Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose for just five spots via the World Points list, he's confident he has the game to answer the questions in a Major.

His three-under 67 on the Major-standard Champion Course at PGA National last night was hugely impressive, not just because he conquered a 25mph crosswind on a water-strewn course, but because he pulled off tough shots when others were running for cover.

"It would be up there in the top 15 rounds of my career," a beaming Lowry said of a score that left him tied for the early lead with American George McNeill and Swede David Lingmerth. "A 67 out there feels like a 62 or 63 to be honest."

The highlight was the raking, 243-yard three-iron to the par-five 18th that pitched at the front of the green and finished just three feet from the stick. "The wind was howling out of the left," Lowry explained. "It was a hard 3-iron and tried to not let it go right. I was just trying to get it up somewhere left of the green or somewhere on the left side of the green and thankfully it came off straight at the flag and released down to about three feet."

Lowry joked to his caddie Dermot Byrne that he'd be happy with a two-putt birdie given that he'd missed three short putts during a round that could have gotten away from him. That would have been a travesty.

He'd played brilliantly early on and reeled off a hat-trick of birdies from the fourth with a brace of five-irons to less than three feet both the fifth and sixth, two of the most spectacular shots you could wish to see.

"Like a summer's day in Balbriggan, Rob," he said to his performance coach Robbie Cannon, a member of the north Dublin club, as he strode up to his birdie putt at the fifth with the sun shining and the wind whipping the flags.

He wasn't smiling 40 minutes later when he had three-putted the seventh and eighth for bogeys and then dropped another shot at the tough 10th, where he was forced to lay up after a poor tee shot.

With the Bear Trap still ahead, disaster lurked. But Lowry responded by taking on the course and producing a homeward nine of 33.

He didn't birdie the 11th after a hold-up six-iron from 170 yards to 15 feet. But it gave him confidence to finish the round beautifully.

"That was the best shot I hit today, into that crosswind," he said. "Water on the right and you can't miss left because it is an impossible chip."

His eagle finish showed his class but given his ambition, we should not have been surprised.

"I want to go out and try to win tournaments. "Obviously the win at Firestone has helped. I know I can do it and I know there is no-one in the field that I fear."

With the Honda Classic regarded as a minor Major by the players, Lowry feels ready to win a Grand Slam event. "I think I already have the confidence and I would like to think I have the game," he said. On this evidence, nobody is arguing.

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