Sport Golf

Thursday 5 December 2019

Open winner Lowry is early clubhouse leader in race to be crowned Sportstar of the Year

The Clara Jug: Shane Lowry celebrates his Open triumph at Royal Portrush. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The Clara Jug: Shane Lowry celebrates his Open triumph at Royal Portrush. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The late, great old American college basketball coach John Wooden once described the key to greatness as a compulsion to "make each day your masterpiece".

It's a line that resonated along the North Antrim coast on a remarkable Saturday afternoon last July when Shane Lowry took charge of the 148th Open Championship with a course record 63, effectively placing one hand on the famous Claret Jug.

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Lowry's bogey-free round broke golf's strongest field and will forever stand as one of the greatest rounds ever played in a Major.

It allowed him ease to a six-shot victory the following day and become only the fifth Irish winner of the Open, the championship being staged on Irish soil for the first time since Eamon de Valera was in his inaugural year as Taoiseach.

Maybe the most enduring stories in sport are those you don't see coming and it's fair to say not many were talking up the Clara man's chances beforehand of outplaying superstars like Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson over four days around the famed Dunluce links.

Woods and McIlroy would miss the half-way cut, the latter almost rescuing his tournament after a disastrous opening 79 - featuring that bizarre quadruple-bogey eight on the opening hole - with a sublime 65 to leave him denied weekend play by just a single shot.

Sculpted

So it was Lowry, a 50/1 shot beforehand, who created the masterpiece on Open Saturday, describing the experience of sculpting that 63 as "the most incredible day I've ever had on a golf course".

His win brought a E1.7 million cheque to supplement the million-plus won in January when securing the Abu Dhabi Championship. Sportstar of the Year credentials? Undoubtedly.

So even in a truly extraordinary year for Irish sports men and women, it's difficult to look beyond Lowry.

Yet, the aforementioned McIlroy had a remarkable season too, pushing Koepka all the way at the top of the world rankings with four tournament wins in 2019, including the so-called 'Fifth Major' - The Players' Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

It's the endless conundrum at this time of year, of course. How do you weigh up one sport against another?

There are, after all, few more popular or admirable Irish sports people than Katie Taylor whose recent Manchester Arena victory over Christina Linardatou made her a world boxing champion across two weight divisions. In doing so, Taylor joined Steve Collins and Carl Frampton as the only Irish boxers to have that distinction.

One week later, we had the Irish women's hockey team holding their nerve under the most withering of pressure to ease past Canada in a penalty shoot-out and finally secure their place at next summer's Tokyo Olympics.

Yet, is it even possible to consider that achievement in the same breath as Dublin's footballers securing the historic five-in-a-row under Jim Gavin, led to the steps of the Hogan Stand - for the fifth time - by a secondary-school teacher from Coolock?

Stephen Cluxton is widely credited with changing how Gaelic football is played today and, truth to tell, is probably entitled to inclusion in any debate about football's greatest goalkeeper.

Of course, Dublin's women secured a three-in-a-row of their own, while Galway collected just a third senior All-Ireland in camogie.

We had Limerick hurlers backing up their 2018 All-Ireland win with victories in the National League and Munster Championship, only for Seamie Callanan's remarkable feat of scoring a goal in eight consecutive championship games propelling Tipperary to a spectacular Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph.

We had Davy Fitzgerald leading Wexford to a first Leinster title since 2004 and Mayo footballers winning their first league in 18 years.

We had the rowing heroics of Sanita Puspure, successfully defending her World Championship gold - and Paul O'Donovan mounting the top step of the podium for a fourth year in a row. Or the same O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy winning gold in the lightweight double-sculls at August's World Championships.

We had the European Indoor bronze medal wins of Ciara Mageean and Mark English, not to mention Mageean's glorious defiance when finishing 10th in the 1,500 metres final at the World Championships in Doha, a race that left so many squinting at the astonishing winning time (3.51.95) of Sifan Hassan, who was coached by Alberto Salazar.

Equivocal

The Ethiopian-born, Dutch runner's links to Nike's Oregon Project left many feeling, at best, equivocal about her 1,500/10,000 metres double, yet Mageean - whose 4.01.21 took over a second off her own lifetime best - resisted the obvious attraction of cynicism.

Knowing that Sonia O'Sullivan's Irish record, established in 1995, would only have earned Ireland's greatest athlete ninth place in Doha, Mageean beamed: "To come 10th in the world, I'm absolutely over the moon.

"For a wee girl from Portaferry, that's not too bad!"

Racing of the equine kind, inevitably, threw up a broad sweep of heroes. Joseph O'Brien became the youngest trainer to win at the so-called "world championships of racing", saddling Idrissa to take the Filly and Mare Turf Race at the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita. His father Aidan's return from 2019 is 14 Group One wins, including Anthony Van Dyck's triumph in the Epsom Derby and Sovereign's in the Irish equivalent at The Curragh.

Willie Mullins finally won the Cheltenham Gold Cup after six second-placed finishes, Al Boum Photo getting home under Paul Townend just weeks before that combination was pipped at Punchestown by another Mullins horse, Kemboy, ridden by the peerless Ruby Walsh.

Few watching could have imagined that they were witnessing the greatest jump jockey ever seen ride his final race that day, Walsh surprising even Mullins afterwards with the announcement of his retirement.

The great Tiger Roll successfully defended his Aintree Grand National crown for Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott and is scheduled for a return to Liverpool next April where, perhaps, immortality awaits.

No such follow-up glory for the Irish rugby team, though, who could not summon a single truly compelling performance in 2019 to match the extraordinary standards of the year before, italicised by that Grand Slam win at Twickenham on St Patrick's Day and the November Dublin defeat of the All Blacks.

On the contrary, Joe Schmidt's farewell season proved a deep disappointment, Ireland's Six Nations campaign bookended by heavy defeats against England and Wales before their World Cup story effectively ran aground with that group loss to hosts, Japan.

Dundalk winning the league and Shamrock Rovers the FAI Cup were the big domestic football winners here at a time when so much of the game became obscured by turmoil within the FAI that still looks like it has a distance to run.

So 'masterpieces' aplenty for the Irish Independent readers to assess. Is Lowry to come out top of the pile?

Vote for our Sportstar of the Year to be in the draw for some fantastic prizes

The Irish Independent led the way in recognising sporting excellence with the introduction of the Sportstar of the Week award in 1950. The 2019 edition of our roll of honour is almost complete and now it’s time for our readers to choose who should be the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year in association with The Croke Park Hotel.

Everyone who casts a vote in all four categories will be entered into a draw for a series of great prizes including:

  • Tickets to the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, March 11 for four people.
  • Two tickets for All-Ireland football final plus overnight stay at The Croke Park on the night of the match.
  • Two tickets for All-Ireland hurling final plus an overnight stay at The Croke Park on the night of the match.
  • Two premium tickets for All-Ireland camogie final plus an overnight stay at The Croke Park on the night prior to the match.
  • Two premium tickets for All-Ireland ladies football final plus an overnight stay at The Croke Park on the night prior to the match.
  • Two tickets to the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year awards, with an overnight stay in The Croke Park, Dublin.
  • A dream trip for two to Washington DC, with flights compliments of Aer Lingus and accommodation for four nights in The Dupont Circle courtesy of The Doyle Collection.
  • A weekend for two in a Doyle Collection hotel in London, with return flights to London (flying into London Heathrow, London City or London Gatwick) compliments of Aer Lingus.
  • Four tickets to Munster v Ospreys European Cup game in January 2020 (January 19) along with four post-match reception passes, along with a signed jersey, a signed ball and a signed squad photograph.

For full terms and conditions and to vote, please visit https://independent.ie/sportstar-awards

We want you to vote for the Sportstar of the Year, the Young Sportstar of the Year, the Team of the Year and the Magic Moment of the Year.

You must choose your Sportstar of the Year from our list of Sportstar of the Week winners and the Young Sportstar of the Year from the list of nominees along with the Team of the Year and the Magic Moment of the Year.

You must vote in all categories on independent.ie/sportstar to enter the draw.

The closing date is Sunday, December 15. Aer Lingus, Ireland’s only four-star airline, flies direct to 13 North American destinations from Ireland. From Dublin, Aer Lingus operates daily flights direct to Washington.

Check out aerlingus.com for further information.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

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