Shane Lowry will embrace the mantle of leading home hope at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open despite his determination to dismiss all talk of a potential victory.
The 32-year-old world number 35 is in some of the best form of his career this season having won the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and scored three PGA Tour top 10s in his last five starts, including runner-up at the Canadian Open and a tie for eighth behind Rory McIlroy at Bethpage Black in the PGA Championship.
McIlroy’s absence from Lahinch this week, however, means Lowry assumes the status of highest-ranked Irishman in his national open for the first time in his career. He may have won the tournament before, a decade ago to be precise as a rank outsider amateur, but never before has the focus been so specifically on the Offaly man with major winners Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke, and McIlroy occupying the spotlight in the last decade.
Lowry leads the betting markets to finish top Irishman this Sunday with one bookmaker offering odds of 15/2 on a first home winner since McIlroy at the K Club in 2016. That is something that is an honour rather than a negative, he feels.
I don’t feel it as a responsibility. There’s plenty of us here. Paddy (Harrington), obviously the career Paddy has had, I’m sure you can pass (the mantle) onto him if you want to. And G-Mac and Dunners (Paul Dunne) to an extent, he’ll have his following down here.
“To be honest, I have thought of it. Like, I obviously know Rory is not here. And if anything the support I get around the golf course it might be bigger and better and maybe that might help me as well as them. But I haven’t really thought about it a whole lot.
“It’s great. Look, if I was coming in there in a different position and there was somebody else sitting there in my position, I’d be envious. So I should really be thankful and I’m lucky that I’m here.”
That does not mean Lowry is embracing thoughts of victory. Far from it, he went out of his way yesterday to talk down his chances.
“I’m feeling good. It’s probably the best, form wise, I’ve ever come into an Irish Open, I suppose, but I’m doing my best to try and play down expectations and just kind of go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.
“The golf course, you can get a score going round there but it can get away from you very quickly as well so I just need to relax and enjoy it and try and I suppose the usual, just one shot at a time and not get too ahead of myself and just try and shoot as good a score as I can on Thursday and see where it leads me. Then do the same on Friday and move on from there.”
Asked why he was playing down expectations, Lowry said: “I think golfers are like that, aren’t we? We are not like boxers. We don’t stand there and say ‘I am definitely going to win’.
“I know how fickle this game is and I know it can jump up and bite you quicker than you expect. I suppose I am playing down expectations, But I do have expectations or I wouldn’t be here this week. I am just trying to play them down in my own head and go out and play my own game.”
It was suggested a pre-fight boxing press conference could make life a little more interesting and a mischievous reporter suggested a head to head with the 6ft 3in Spanish bruiser Jon Rahm, this week’s tournament favourite.
“I wouldn’t fancy my chances against him,” Lowry replied. “Maybe someone smaller. It might make it a bit more interesting but we are not that interesting, are we?”
Either way, Lowry, appears happy with his lot. He played 10 practice holes at Lahinch yesterday in the company of Irish young guns Conor O’Rourke, Paul McBride, and Cormac Sharvin under the watchful eye of coach Neil Manchip before reporting in with the media and giving his seal of approval to the tournament’s arrival on the Clare coast.
“It’s nice to come to different places. I think when the Irish Open moves around Ireland and it’s in a small place like this, they really buy into it and it’s great to see how well the town and the surrounding towns have taken to it. And the weather looks like it’s going to be pretty good so I think it could go down as one of the best Irish Opens ever this week.”