Lowry aiming to hit Baltray heights again
STANDING on the first tee at Baltray yesterday, Shane Lowry couldn't help but allow the odd cursory glance over to his left.
Peering through the bushes was the 18th green, the spot at which, just over a year ago, he claimed a victory that will forever be etched in Irish golf folklore.
But a year is a long time in this game and while he admitted that the memories of that Irish Open win would come flooding back in his first round back on the Co Louth course since that rainy day last May, the Offaly man's eyes are now focused firmly on what is on the horizon.
Lowry (pictured below) was in contention at the business end of his last outing in Seville at the Spanish Open, something which he hasn't had too much experience of since turning professional last May.
But confidence is building with time. And now he feels that something big is close.
"I think if I get the putter hot one week (soon), I think I could pull something off.
"It's not easy to win out there; there are so many good players but I think if I get the putter going, I'll have a really good chance one week.
"What I try and do is stay in the tournament first and then try and get into contention for that back nine on Sunday. Then all of a sudden you hole a couple of putts and shoot a few under par and you're the champion, so that's the plan," he says, echoing the oft-quoted philosophy of one Pádraig Harrington.
"It's just being there or thereabouts on the back nine on Sunday. If you're within two or three of the lead, you always have a chance.
"I gave myself that chance in Seville but then had a bad back nine and came back in 38 but some week I'll come back with 32 and who knows."
It's not a bad time to be feeling on the top of one's game, with this week's BMW PGA Championship the next port of call.
Preparation, meanwhile, doesn't come much better. Yesterday's exhibition round at Baltray for sponsors Atlas tyres was his first there since the play-off victory over Robert Rock last year.
It's bound to get the juices flowing. "It's always good coming back to a place you have won, whether as an amateur or a pro, but especially coming back to this today.
"It will evoke a few memories, I'll be able to remember the shots even if the conditions are just a bit different," he smiled as the sun beamed down upon the stunning links.
That will be closely followed by a casual round with Rory McIlroy today on the iconic fairways of Wentworth.
The rise to prominence of his close ally from Northern Ireland on the world stage may be taking some of the limelight from Lowry's recent good form, but the Esker Hills man had become used to living in McIlroy's shadow from his days as an amateur.
There has never been a hint of jealousy, however. Instead, there is an evident tinge of delight when McIlroy's incredible win at Quail Hollow earlier this month is mentioned.
It just means that now, for Lowry, there is another feat to attempt to emulate.
"When Rory was amateur, he dominated obviously ... because Rory is Rory, but when he left it was me, I was the number one Irish player for a couple of years and I felt very comfortable with that role.
"It gave me a lot of confidence. I won a few tournaments and when you have people saying you're the best you take a lot of comfort from that.
"But what Rory has done is unbelievable over the last three or four years, and the win a couple of weeks ago, it gives me and young Irish players and even young European Tour players that extra confidence that we need to take it to the next level."
Yesterday's return to the Louth coastline must have served as a reminder of how far Lowry has come in one year. Now, he believes, he is ready for that next step.
Meanwhile, South African Retief Goosen, out of action since The Masters over a month ago after breaking a toe "running around" with his two children, has withdrawn from this week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
He is not the only major champion to pull out of the European Tour's flagship event.
Jose Maria Olazabal has decided he is still not fit enough to end a seven-month lay-off caused by continuing problems with rheumatism.
The two-time Masters champion appeared in the pro-am before last week's tournament in Majorca, but does not feel well enough to compete for four straight days.