Friday 24 November 2017

Lowry fires sparkling 64 after dusting off 'cobwebs'

Shane Lowry acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Shane Lowry acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during day one of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

People dream of finding treasure in the attic but Shane Lowry reckons he found salvation in a cupboard in his apartment in the Dublin suburb of Milltown.

The trusty old two-ball blade Lowry unearthed during a recent rummage among the 20 or so putters he has stored away was key for the Clara native as he compiled a superlative first-round 64 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Though two strokes outside the career-best 62 Lowry posted on the Saturday at Baltray as he swept to his mesmeric Irish Open victory as an amateur in 2009, yesterday's 10 birdies is his best tally in one round.

Lowry's lowest first round on Tour left him in second place – two shy of Thomas Bjorn after the grizzled Dane set the course record at the 'new' Wentworth with a flawless 62 when the rain-softened West Course was at its most vulnerable on an idyllic May morning.

Bjorn finished minutes before the first of two storm delays which made a two and a half hour marathon of Lowry's final three holes. Yet the 27-year-old Offaly man held his form and focus admirably to birdie 16 and 17 and go within a whisker of a third at the last.

Even more impressive was the way in which Lowry never lost faith in himself, nor sight of his destiny, during an intensely frustrating year which saw him make the weekend just twice in his first eight tournaments.

Stymied week in and week out on the green, Lowry's search for a solution finally brought him to that collection of old putters at fortnight ago.

"I've a little putting mat in the apartment and had been messing about with a few putters when I pulled out this one, got the cobwebs off it, and it felt good," he explained.

"I tried it at the Spanish Open last week, played well and finished 15th, my best of the year."

Revealingly, this putter last saw action at Wentworth three years ago when Lowry finished fourth in the European Tour's flagship event and it figured prominently yesterday as he continued his love affair with the West Course, which he describes as "the best we play all year", and the BMW Championship.

"I just love playing here, it's such a special place in my mind and I relish playing in big events like this," said Lowry. "I've been waiting to play these big tournaments because I love the buzz around them, the big crowds and the big golf courses.

"I'm not saying this is the reason for my poor stretch of form this year. That's solely down to my poor putting. I feel like my game has been okay but I was struggling on the greens.

DIFFERENCE

"Holing putts makes all the difference," continued Lowry, who needed to use his putter just 25 times yesterday, an impressively low tally considering he hit 15 greens in regulation.

That difference was apparent at the first. "I kind of missed my drive a little bit there, had a lovely shot to about eight feet and holed that," he said.

Lowry made a 20-footer for another birdie at two and the tone for his day was set. As confidence in his short game flourishes, any pressure on Lowry's approach play reduces, resulting in a succession of glorious iron shots yesterday.

The highlights were a superb nine-iron into 11 which brushed the cup and his six-iron into the uphill 179-yard 14th which covered the pin, sucked back down the slope and went within a whisker of securing the luxury BMW on offer for an ace.

When it comes to the primacy of putting, Padraig Harrington sang from virtually the same hymn sheet as he revealed, after a first-round 69 that featured six birdies, how he has recently overcome the yips.

As in Texas last week, the Dubliner once again appeared to enjoy himself on the course yesterday, a welcome departure from his near-fruitless and too often dispiriting first four and a half months in 2014.

"Once again, I scored better than I played," he said with obvious satisfaction. "That's happened in five of my last seven rounds ... the difference is that I've started putting good.

"I'm starting to get better on the greens and it's easier to play golf when you're putting half-decent. You gather momentum when you're hitting it close and making a few birdies or recovering the odd time you need to."

Harrington is once again polishing off chances like the Major champion of old. "For a period there, I had the yips and they came from a lack of trust," he revealed, adding that he now has "confidence in how I'm reading greens now and that's a big start".

"I'm hitting enough putts well now that I don't run it three or four feet by and give myself palpitations," Harrington added. "As the putts go in, the stroke is freeing up. The longer this goes on the more confidence I'll have in it."

This, in turn, has reinforced Harrington's efforts to change his attitude. "I'm trying to care less; trying to try less; I have to work hard to take it easy," said golf's high priest of paradox. "I'm trying to be happier and more carefree, any of those words you can think of."

And, as Lowry also will attest, happiness in golf comes principally from sinking putts.

THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 10.00

CROWNE PLAZA INVITATIONAL, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.00

Irish Independent

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