SHANE LOWRY isn't the only man in Doha this week to have won the Irish Open at Baltray; and the other, Aussie Brett Rumford, certainly wasn't difficult to find.
Rumford (34), winner of the 2004 Irish Open at Co Louth, soared into the 36-hole lead on nine-under at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after posting the low round of the tournament, a sweet 66, on a wonderfully cool, still day in the Arabian Desert.
Lowry, who got his year off to a flying start with his splendid fourth place in last Sunday's Abu Dhabi Championship, showed his ever-increasing acumen as a Tour professional by squeezing a satisfactory two-under-par 70 out of a frustrating round.
At three-under, Lowry lay one behind his fellow Irishmen, Graeme McDowell and Peter Lawrie. Gareth Maybin and Michael Hoey made the cut, the latter bang on the mark at two-over.
Sadly, Damien McGrane, who also missed out in Abu Dhabi last week, has another weekend off to try and bed in his new irons and golf ball after a second-round 72 left him one tantalising stroke outside the cut-off point.
Lowry had his patience sorely tested yesterday. "I didn't play great. I missed a few greens and a few birdie chances -- it could have been a lot better and not a lot worse, to be honest," he explained.
Yet the man from Clara impressed 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton, his playing companion for the first two rounds, with his composure, especially when Lowry saved par after hitting a poor lay-up into the water on his final hole yesterday.
"Shane's a good player," said the American, who missed the cut himself. "He has a good ball flight, strength in every area of his game and not an obvious weakness. But what really impressed me is his attitude.
"He doesn't get fazed by anything that happens to him on the course. I'm impressed by the way he handles his emotions. I suppose he had to be able to win out here as an amateur. From what I've seen, he has a very bright future."
Lowry (22) credits Bray caddie Dermot Byrne for helping him stay cool. "He keeps me going on days like this when I'm not fully there," he explained.
"Even after I missed a couple of short putts today, he came up with a wisecrack that got me smiling.
"When it comes to club selection, we discuss it between ourselves and, more often than not, we get it right," added Lowry, pointing out that he and his caddy also enjoy each other's company off the course.
"I'll meet him for dinner two or three times a week at tournaments. Dermot rooms with Darren Reynolds and we meet up, have a laugh and get on really well. It's the sort of partnership I want. We're friendly rather than just him working for me."
Byrne, a veteran of 10-plus years on Tour, six of them spent with Lawrie, is especially impressed with Lowry's speed on the pick-up. "He's improved quicker than any other player I've caddied for," said the caddie.
"Something you'd think would take six months, takes him two weeks. Shane's putting, his long game, everything is just different league," he added. "When we first sat down, we said, 'This is where you have to be and this is what you have to do'. Well, we're getting there and we're doing it. As your mum and dad always said, there's no substitute for hard work."
McDowell would never describe himself as a morning person, yet neither he nor Lawrie were put-off by a 4.45 alarm-clock call.
Both opened with birdies and, at the end of the day, would be prominent among the five players who managed to navigate this teasing 7510-yard course without a bogey on their card.
After failing to make the weekend in Abu Dhabi, McDowell was crestfallen following his first-round 73, but he shifted up a gear or two with yesterday's 67. "It wasn't all doom and gloom on Thursday; it just felt like it," he admitted.
"I just think we're all a little too hard on ourselves sometimes. It was a different day today with the weather and I played really well for 13 or 14 holes. It could have been a few better and I didn't really light it up on the greens. Still, it's a nice position to be in entering the weekend, as I feel I am playing well enough to go low."
Doha Golf Club used be heaven for big hitters, but the rough has been allowed grow thick and the fairways have been pinched tight this year.
Lawrie, who relies more on precision than power, is happy, saying, "it seems to suit my game", shortly after signing for his second-round 68.
The Dubliner, tied ninth with McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and the man he beat in sudden-death at the 2008 Spanish Open, Igancio Garrido, went on: "At this stage of a new season my game is about 60pc and I am just building that up with each round.
"Mentally, I'm quite good, which is a good sign, but game-wise, there's still a lot of rust in the golf bag."
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