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Shane Lowry's first-class ticket to ride


Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry

Five small steps up the world ladder, one giant leap into the stratosphere by Shane Lowry.

When he awoke in Dubai yesterday as the 47th-ranked player on the planet, Lowry's career prospects and earning power were vastly superior to those of the man who teed it up in the final round of the DP World Tour Championship a day earlier.

The implications for any golfer who breaks into the top 50 are massive. A chasm exists between the haves and have-nots in this sport.

Simply compare the sometimes fraught first half of Lowry's season in 2014 with the money-spinning potential of the opening six months of his likely schedule next year.

Much already has been made of his debut at April's Masters. An invitation to perform on Augusta's sacred turf will be posted when Lowry, as is certain, passes through December 31 in the top 50.


Yet this is but one of myriad fringe benefits which await should Lowry consolidate his position in the sport's upper echelon; and having at last managed to make the breakthrough, there's good reason to expect a player of his natural gift to stay there.

From now, Lowry will play consistently for more cash and, vitally, ranking points.

For example, the 12 events he played up to June 2014 boasted an aggregate $36.785m in prize-money, nearly $15m of which was on offer at the US Open at Pinehurst, for which he had to pre-qualify, and Europe's mid-season showpiece, the BMW PGA, in which Lowry finished second behind Rory McIlroy to secure his card for 2015.

For the most part, Lowry plied his trade in such far-flung places as Africa North and South, the Far East and in 'second tier' tour events in Europe offering minimal ranking points and tournament prize-funds as low as $715,000.

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As a member of the world's top 50, however, Lowry will from January to June compete for his share of purses totalling $67.74m, including two Majors (the Masters and US Open), two World Golf Championships (the Cadillac Championship and Match Play) and, as he suggested on Sunday, a couple of US Tour events, which should boast $6m-plus each.

"Yeah, I'll try and play a little bit over in the US at the start of the year," he says. "If I'm in the Majors and WGCs, hopefully I'll get a couple of invites here and there and I'll not have to travel to China and South Africa.

"When you're up there in the top 50, you really don't want to be playing in fields that don't necessarily have decent ranking points. You must plan your schedule well. I'll sit down with Conor Ridge at Horizon and plan that at the start of the year."

After joining the 30-man chase for a $1.25m first prize and ranking points at next week's Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, Lowry will take his Christmas break, resuming duty in Abu Dhabi in January, followed if he chooses by Qatar and the Desert Classic.

The key word is 'chooses'. As a member of the world top 50, Lowry becomes master of his own destiny. Effectively, all doors are open, so he can fill in the time between Majors and WGCs as he pleases.

He's unlikely to play any event next year offering a purse of less than $2.5m, assuming that May's star-studded 'Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation' at Royal Co Down will surpass that amount.

Highly respected coach Pete Cowen, a Yorkshireman who doesn't often waste breath on superlatives, believes Lowry's in the top flight to stay.

"Shane's good enough and I think he understands he's good enough as well now. I like him. It's a nice change to see somebody with so much freedom of movement. He's a brilliant pitcher and if he putts half-decent, he's always going to do well," says Cowen, who first saw Lowry as a teenager in his former capacity as advisor to the GUI.

Asked at a squad session if he was impressed by Rory McIlroy (15), then a prodigy, Cowen nodded, then said: "You've got another one there, the little fat lad with glasses."

Cowen laughs as he recalls the text he sent Lowry after the 2012 Portugal Masters, his first title as a pro and three years after his sensational victory as an amateur in the Irish Open. "Not bad for a little fat lad with glasses," it read.

"Shane's a nice lad," Cowen concludes. Nobody on the European Tour would dissent, for the Clara native has remained his earthy self in one of the most pampered and privileged environments in sport.

Lowry likes nothing more than hopping in a car with a few mates or his dad Brendan and heading off across country on a summer's evening to a championship football or hurling match.

A Leinster rugby fan, he was in the rapt, packed crowd in McGettigans in Dubai the other night roaring Ireland on against Australia. He's an ordinary lad who savours the simple things in life.

Cowen's correct when he says Lowry's beginning to 'know' how good he is, even if a pressure-pot series of missed cuts earlier this year and his recent nerve-wracked weeks on the cusp of the top 50 suggested otherwise.

Lowry's top-10 finish behind McIlroy at Hoylake and the glittering final-round 66 which clinched fifth in Dubai showed he's willing and able to make an impact in the upper echelons, while he talks the talk when it comes to Augusta, a venue which should fit his masterful short game.

"I'll go there feeling I can compete in those type of fields. People have this myth that you need to play Augusta a few times to do well in the Masters but I'll try and put that right next year," he says.

"I watched Tiger win there a few times on TV; remember Trevor Immelman in 2008 and, of course, Rory's run in 2011. Hopefully, I can create my own story at Augusta!"

Rory and Rickie grow from boys to 'The Men'

WOW, check out the chubby cheeks and curly mop!

Time has been kind to Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, judging by these fascinating pictures from the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal Co Down and the recent Ryder Cup.

The change in McIlroy is stunning. Years of fitness work with English conditioning specialist Dr Steve McGregor and pumping iron have yielded phenomenal results.

McIlroy revealed last week that the huge weights he was pictured lifting in the gym "aren't as heavy as they look, just 120 kilos (275lb)". Yet that's 30kg heavier than defending DP World Tour champion Henrik Stenson, who finished two strokes ahead of runner-up Rory on Sunday.

Fowler last week accepted McIlroy's invitation back to Royal Co Down to play in May's Irish Open.

It'll be a treat for fans. The rivalry between these two is expected to illuminate the world stage next year after McIlroy won the British Open and US PGA in 2014 and Fowler emulated Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus by finishing top five in all four Majors.

Whatever about changes to McIlroy's physique, mentally he has developed a tough outer shell this season, allowing him contend in Dubai, despite not having his 'A' game.

He's determined this week in Sydney to join Nicklaus and Gary Player as the only foreign golfers to win back to back at the Australian Open, though April's Masters fills the distant horizon. "I started thinking about Augusta on the August 18 when I won the PGA," he laughs.

Tiger's new coach, Chris Como (36), who charges regular clients in Plano, Texas up to $1,500 per half day, studies biomechanics under Dr Young-Hoo Kwon, a leading authority in "sport injury mechanism". This is believed to be key to his appointment.

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