McIlroy under threat from Lowry's friendly fire in Tucson 'All-Ireland'
SHANE LOWRY is the most difficult opponent Rory McIlroy could meet in tomorrow week's first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson.
Can there be anything more daunting than an all-or-nothing knockout match against a near neighbour after an indifferent pre-season.
The fact that Lowry and McIlroy are genuine friends going back to their days as foursomes partners on the Irish amateur team only adds further spice to the occasion, especially as they've never played against each other.
Remarkably, Ireland's two other qualifiers for Tucson, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, are also currently slated to meet each other in the first round.
A mini-miracle occurred on the Monterey Peninsula on Sunday to keep Lowry in the 64-man field for the year's first World Golf Championship and set up a match all Ireland wants.
Of course, should someone else join Phil Mickelson and withdraw from the tournament, world No 66 Freddie Jacobson will step into the fray against McIlroy, with Lowry taking on Tiger Woods.
Not a bad alternative, but there's no prizes for guessing who Lowry would prefer to meet ... though it truly is a case of 'better the divil ye know' than any misplaced confidence on his part.
"I'm going to have quite a difficult match if I'm playing against Rory next week," he said. "But there's no reason why, with a little break here and a little break there, I can't put it up to him. It should be fun.
"I know Rory quite well and he knows me. It'll be interesting to see how we both deal with it. I'll speak to my coach, Neil Manchip, about it during the week and try and get a plan and the right mindset in place.
"Rory's the big deal in world golf and rightly so. I must focus on what I'm doing to give myself the best chance against him ... first, let's just see what the draw brings."
Lowry (25) last engaged in match play at the final of the 2009 West of Ireland, while world No 1 McIlroy, at 23 a two-time Major champion, has won 10 of 14 games in four appearances in Tucson, including his run to the decider in 2012.
McIlroy shot two rounds of 75 and missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last month as he grappled with a new Nike driver and putter on his only appearance so far this year.
"That could do one of two things," Lowry surmised. "Make him play better and want to prove a point or put on an added bit of pressure he doesn't really need. Yet Rory is Rory, probably one of the most gifted golfers that ever walked the earth."
Lowry pipped Jacobson by .0002 of a World Ranking point for his place in the field after US Q-School graduate Patrick Reed (22) from Texas, forced his way into a tie for seventh with the Swede at Pebble Beach last Sunday with an astonishing birdie after driving onto the rocks at 18.
"I think I owe him dinner," said Lowry, who could honour that debt if, as expected, he wins a sponsor's invite to the Puerto Rico Open, which coincides with next month's Cadillac in Doral.
Lowry, who flies to Arizona on Saturday, sees no reason why he and Horizon stablemate McIlroy won't practise or dine together in Tucson. "Playing a practice round would not be an issue," he said.
"I'm sure there'll be a bit of banter between the two of us anyway. At the end of the day, it's a game of golf. It's not like we're going out to fight each other."