Lowry targets Irish double

Lowry targets Irish double

Shane Lowry will tee off at Killarney tomorrow hoping to join a distinguished list of players who have made successful defences of the Irish Open title.

In the last 25 years Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie have all retained the crown, Faldo even doing it three times in a row.

But none of that famous four were trying for the double that local hero Lowry now has his sights on – a victory in the event as an amateur followed by one as a professional.

The 23-year-old’s play-off win over England’s Robert Rock at Co Louth in May last year was one of the most dramatic in European Tour history.

His second-round 62 matched the lowest round ever by an amateur on the circuit and to beat a field which included Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell catapulted him into the big time.

“One week I was just your normal amateur golfer playing the amateur tournaments and the next week I was teeing it at the London Club as a European Tour player,” he recalled.

“It was life-changing for me.”

Lowry decided his shock success was something he had to cash in on. While runner-up Rock took home the first prize of more than €500,000 the Co Offaly player knew that he had opened the door to a fortune.

He has not won since, but he has had a third in Japan, a fourth in Abu Dhabi, is 82nd in the world and has made “over half a million euros” – the same as the winner’s cheque that as an amateur he could not take.

Two weeks ago he played his first major at St Andrews, having won the qualifying competition, and in another two weeks he has the US PGA in Wisconsin.

Going into last year’s Irish Open, of course, no special attention was paid to him. It is different now.

“Obviously I am defending champion and it’s my home tournament, but I’m trying to keep myself away from the town and try to treat it as a normal week.”

McIlroy, Harrington, Clarke and McDowell – now the US Open champion, of course - are back again to try to succeed him as champion, but Ryder Cup captain Montgomerie is having a week off and Westwood is giving his ruptured calf muscle another week’s rest before heading to the States.

Harrington has a lot of eyes on him too because he is only 17th in the Ryder Cup points race. But victory on Sunday is worth nearly €500,000 and that could lift him as high as sixth.

The Dubliner admits, though, that his position is “very perilous” and that he would be “gutted” and “devastated” if he was not part of Europe’s team.

Nine players qualify automatically at the end of next month and then captain Colin Montgomerie adds three wild cards.

An amazing five players in the world’s current top 25 – Paul Casey (9), Edoardo Molinari (17), Justin Rose (18), Harrington (19) and Henrik Stenson (23) – are in need of a wild card as things stand.

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