Rare Lowry ace adds lustre to Arabian desert song
OKAY, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry were playing with and not strictly against each other in yesterday's second round of the DP World Tour Championship and there certainly were no side-bets struck between the two former Irish amateur teammates.
"Definitely not," insisted Lowry, a twinkle in his eye as, in obvious reference to his good friend's exalted status as World No 1, he added: "I wouldn't be stupid enough to have a side-bet!"
Still, there was a distinctly Irish air about The Earth Course in Dubai yesterday as Holywood native McIlroy and Clara champion Lowry engaged in what mischievously can be described as an All-Ireland match-play final.
Friday is the sabbath in Arabia, so massive crowds followed the two Irish golfers in the final group for as long as a desert thirst would allow.
"I was hitting my second shot at 16 and could hear them singing the Fields of Athenry in the bar, I really could," Lowry chuckled. "I was like 'at least someone's having fun!'"
It actually took a few moments for the usually affable 27-year-old to recover his sense of humour after letting a couple of gilt-edged birdie chances go a-begging on 17 and 18.
Amid the frustration of those final moments, even his first hole-in-one in competition, courtesy of a superlative six-iron on 13, was almost forgotten.
Lowry followed the sparkling 66 that placed him alongside McIlroy in a share of the first-round lead with a one-under 71, while the Ulsterman shot 70. So, despite not playing well, both kept alive their hopes of winning tomorrow's $1.333m first prize.
McIlroy, whose Race to Dubai title already is safe, entered the final 36 holes tied second on eight-under with Scot Richie Ramsay and England's Danny Willett, two behind Henrik Stenson after an impressive 66 by the defending champion.
On seven-under, Lowry shared fifth with England's Justin Rose, Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, Stenson's fellow Swede Kristoffer Broberg and Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain.
In match-play terms, McIlroy would have beaten Lowry by one hole yesterday after sinking a 10-foot putt for a sweet birdie two at 17, before the Offaly man failed from 40 inches.
In keeping with a hit-and-miss day for both off the tee, McIlroy's drive up the shortened par-five 18th trundled through the fairway and into the stream, while Lowry sent spectators scuttling for cover on the left.
McIlroy dropped out under penalty, hit a soaring fairway-metal into the long grass at greenside, then chipped and putted for par.
Lowry, meanwhile, laid up from the rough, hit a lovely short-iron to six feet and, exasperatingly, missed yet again.
There, in a nutshell, was neat summation of a day which promised so much as the pair played together on Tour for the first time in 16 months.
It's a remarkable feature of golf that even the game's most exalted players fall prey to precisely the same paradoxes as the rest of us. Everyone who plays, no matter how modestly, has been pleasantly surprised to perform remarkably well in their first round after a long break. . . then have soaring expectations shattered in their second.
So it was with McIlroy. After playing impeccably on Thursday in his first competitive round in nearly seven weeks, yesterday he admitted: "I just didn't quite have it."
Amusingly, his repertoire included a scuttery, topped effort off the seventh fairway which Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley described in TV commentary as "the worst shot I've ever seen Rory hit".
"It was a fat, low, duck-hook runner, not-intentional," McIlroy smiled, adding in mitigation that he found the seventh fairway a little soggy on his first visit there this week.
In fairness, he made par five there, so McIlroy's first dropped shot of the tournament came at 12, where he had to lay up after driving into a fairway bunker.
After facile birdies at 14 and 15 served fair notice of his ability and intent to capture this title for the second time in three years, McIlroy three-putted from 14 feet for bogey at 16 before resuming normal service with that sweet hole-out on 17.
Confessing that he'd been "anxious" setting out with the World No 1 in the midst of the tumult which follows McIlroy on the course nowadays, Lowry blazed his opening tee shot way right, where it came to rest on the sand under the overhanging branches of a tree.
Bogey there was one of three in his first four holes, a spell brightened only by his deft escape from a front greenside trap for birdie four at two.
Lowry shook off his lethargy with a glorious birdie at nine and, after playing the next three neatly in par, dealt himself that ace on 13.
"It was a beautiful shot, a perfect number for my six-iron, up the hill, a little bit into the wind, playing about 195 yards," he explained.
"It's my first in tournament play and only my second ever, so it was pretty exciting. It was hard to go on and play the next hole after it."
His other, during a corporate day at Castlerock, also was executed with that six-iron.
No car was on offer at 13, 'just' two nights and a dinner for two at the famous Atlantis Hotel overlooking Dubai's Palm islands.
A much greater prize, a place in the world's elite top 50, awaits him tomorrow should Lowry finish 12th or better, though a third Tour victory was still in his sights as he set out this morning with affable English veteran David Howell.
As his frustration ebbed, the Offaly man said: "I had the 'lefts' with my driver today and struggled on the greens, so to shoot under par was quite good. I'm still in this tournament."
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Dominant power takes step towards US Tour card
Seamus Power romped through to Final Q-School in the US with a comfortable five-stroke victory in his Second Stage Qualifier in Plantation Preserve Golf and Country Club in Florida yesterday.
A final round of one-over-par 72 left West Waterford star Power (27) - money-leader on the EGolf Tour in the Carolinas this summer - on 11-under and at the head of the posse of 20 qualifiers.
They proceed to the 156-man Final Q-School at PGA National field where full Web.Com Tour cards for 2015 will be on offer to the top 45 in the standings after the December 6-11 series on both courses at the Palm Beach resort.
Power will be the only Irish golfer in the field.
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