Saturday 24 February 2018

Lowry bids to finish on a high by reigning in Sun City

Shane Lowry of Northern Ireland has set his sights on winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC in Sun City, South Africa
Shane Lowry of Northern Ireland has set his sights on winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC in Sun City, South Africa
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Shane Lowry has a chance to close out a memorable 2015 by going where no Irishman has gone before and winning the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City, South Africa.

This elite tournament, which began in 1981 and was called 'The Million Dollar Challenge' for years, has yet to produce an Irish winner.

The field used to be confined to 12 players but since it was elevated to co-sanctioned status between the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour in 2013, the numbers increased to 30.

Next year the tournament will become even more important as the second event of the three which will make up the European Tour's 'Final Series.'

The prize money, already impressive at $6.5m dollars (€6.15m), will also increase to $700,000 (€6.6m).

Lowry, who finished fifth in the Race To Dubai rankings, did not play as well as he had hoped in his last three events.

He was hopeful of a strong challenge to Rory McIlroy's Race to Dubai title after an eighth place in the Turkish Airlines Open, but ended up tied-68 in the WGC-HSBC Champions, tied-56 in the BMW Masters, and tied-48 in the DP World Tour Championship.

This is an opportunity to round off the year on a high note, albeit that the Bridgestone win and his Road to Dubai final ranking are huge highlights - not to mention the €2,729,144 in official European Tour earnings in 2014-15.

By any standards that level of winnings represents a very successful campaign as a professional golfer, but Lowry appreciates that tournament wins are the yardstick by which his career will be judged.

Speaking to him recently about the rewards on offer, I wondered whether the potential to win a big-money prize could add to, or detract from, a player's motivation as a tournament reaches the key phase. He had direct experience of that situation in the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio in August when he pulled a superb victory out of the jaws of defeat with some great golf on the home stretch.

Lowry accepts that money is important. Players are ultimately self-employed businessmen, but in the heat of battle, it's the last thing on his mind.

"I'd say if I was there and I had a chance of winning the FedEx Cup, I wouldn't be thinking about money coming down the stretch. I'd be just thinking about the tournament," he insisted.

"At Firestone there was $1.6m up for grabs (for the winner). It's a lot of money. But not for once did that cross my mind going down the back nine on Sunday."

Lowry will face stiff competition at Sun City from leading contenders Danny Willett (2014 winner), Henrik Stenson, Russell Knox and Charl Schwartzel, who won at Leopard Creek last Sunday.

Jordan Spieth is the man to beat in the Hero World Challenge which starts in Albany GC in the Bahamas today where 18 of the world's top 50 compete in Tiger Woods' event.

Bubba Watson replaces Jason Day, who opted to extend his holiday.

Nedbank Golf Challenge

Sky Sports 4, 8.0am

Hero World Challenge

Sky Sports 4, 6.0pm

Irish Independent

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