Friendship put aside as Irish duel

Lady Luck might have turned her back on the Irish in Tucson but Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell will be putting friendship aside in tomorrow’s first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play.

Lowry clashes with close pal and world number one McIlroy with McDowell drawn with triple major winner Pádraig Harrington.

To make matters worse, all four have been placed in the top half of the Bobby Jones bracket, meaning two of them could meet in Thursday’s third round.

But the objective for all four is to survive tomorrow’s opening clashes and a weather forecast that looks more like Ireland than the Arizona desert with heavy rain set to send temperatures tumbling from a balmy 23c to just 12c.

“If it’s as bad they say on Wednesday, I think I’d have preferred to play an American rather than a guy like Pádraig, who is probably as good a bad-weather player as I would be,” McDowell said before heading out to play the back nine with Lowry.

“I think we are disappointed that we are all in the same bracket and that we are playing each other.

“That really kind of hurts things in that only one of us can make the quarter-finals. You’d prefer not to play guys you are close to and Pádraig is a tenacious match player and I will have my work cut out.”

Harrington and McDowell both played the course on Sunday having missed the cut in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.

While the Dubliner was in Phoenix yesterday, shooting an ad for his club sponsors Wilson, Lowry and McDowell hit the back nine at a Dove Mountain course that is characterised by its severely undulating greens.

On paper, world number 68 Lowry should have little chance of surprising McIlroy. But given the world number one’s teething problems with his new Nike equipment he may well be severely tested by the Clara man, who has nothing to lose.

That’s the view of England’s Justin Rose, who is impressed by what he’s seen from the pride of Offaly so far in his career.

“I’ve played a lot of golf with Shane in the last few months and I’ve been really impressed with his putting,” Rose said. “He seems to make a lot of putts from 10 feet and in.

“It’s not an easy match for Rory. When it’s world number one versus world number 64 it’s almost a free pass. You’re not expected to do anything, you can only be the hero.”

Lowry’s clubs didn’t turn up until yesterday. But he was still in bright form when he finally got to play the course with a temporary set with McDowell on Sunday, engaging in his some good-natured banter with McIlroy, precisely over putting, when they met on the putting green.

“I was telling him to practice his short ones because he won’t be getting many on Wednesday,” Lowry said with a grin. “It’s just a bit of craic.”

Asked if he’d have a psychological edge over a player he knows better than most having partnered him in foursomes for Ireland, Lowry was not so sure.

“Listen, he’s the best golfer in the world and it’s hard to get an edge on him,” Lowry said. “I just have to go out and make as many birdies as I can and see where I am on Wednesday afternoon.

“He’s always been a go for it player and that suits me. I have no fear of going at flags and taking the golf course on.”

Lowry knows he has nothing to lose but that doesn’t mean he won’t be feeling the pressure as he tries to break into the top 50 in the world who qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship in two weeks as well as the Masters.

Revealing he’ll battle for just four spots in a Monday qualifier for next week’s Honda Classic, he said: “I have pressure on myself too. I don’t want to go out and make a show of myself. I still want to go out there and do well.”

The winner of the Lowry-McIlroy clash will meet the winner of Carl Petterson and Rickie Fowler while Harrington or McDowell will meet with Dustin Johnson or Swede Alex Noren.

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