Friday 17 January 2020

Lowry hopes Major lift can propel him into Ryder ranks

Shane Lowry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Shane Lowry. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry has been wearing the skin off the palms of his hands in preparation for 2020 and his assault on qualifying for the Ryder Cup.

For the second year running, The Open champion has been knocking the winter rust off his game in Dubai in preparation for a new season.

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He's aware that he will likely need to win at least once between now and the end of the qualifying campaign on September 13 to clinch an automatic berth in Pádraig Harrington's European side for September's clash with the USA at Whistling Straits.

But while he also knows that he would have an excellent chance of winning one of Harrington's three wild cards, the Offaly man is keen to make it on merit and this week's Hong Kong Open offers him the ideal opportunity to hit the ground running.

"I don't feel different, but it has given me a strong underlying confidence," Lowry told The National in the UAE of the biggest benefit to becoming a Major champion.

"I still want to improve and every time I go out on the golf course try be the best golfer I can be."

With top-50 in the world status a prerequisite for Ryder Cup selection in Europe since 2008 - 53rd-ranked Paul McGinley was the last player to make the team from outside the top 50 in 2004 - Lowry (above) broke the back of Ryder Cup qualification last year by following his win in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship with that unforgettable, six-shot Major triumph at Royal Portrush. Now that he's a top-20 player, he's ideally placed to benefit from his presence in all the Majors and big World Golf Championship events.

But he also knows that he now has to make sure 2019 was not in vain and that likely means adding to his haul of victories and his rate of top-10 finishes.

Winning in Hong Kong this week, where the world No 19 is the highest-ranked player in the field after American world No 16 Tony Finau, would be a dream start before his title defence in Abu Dhabi next week and the battle for huge world ranking points in Saudi Arabia.

With a Major among his five worldwide wins, Lowry's CV is superior to those of recent European rookies such as Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

It's also at least as good as England's Danny Willett, who won the Masters during the 2016 campaign.

Lowry is unfortunate that his stellar 2019 season counted for nothing in terms of Ryder Cup points but it would be a major surprise if he failed to make the team as a Major winner.

Since the inaugural Ryder Cup in 1927, no European-born Major winner has failed to play in a Ryder Cup.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy has confirmed that he will return to action in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in two weeks.

The world No 2 made his debut in the event last year and finished tied for fifth, seven shots behind winner Justin Rose.

Organisers are still waiting to see if Masters champion Tiger Woods, a seven-time winner of the San Diego event, will commit to the tournament.

McIlroy joins Rose, local hero Phil Mickelson, Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Rahm and world No 8 Xander Schauffele in a star-studded field.

Irish Independent

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