In spite of his disappointing performance at Wentworth last week, Rory McIlroy will inevitably be very much the focus of attention at Royal County Down this week. Even so, the fans and television viewers will also keep more than one eye on several other Irishmen, and most especially Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry and Pádraig Harrington.
A chat with Ewen Murray, Sky Sports’ lead golf commentator, confirmed he, too, will be fascinated by how they cope with the vagaries of the Newcastle links and the expectation of the Irish galleries. Murray was Clarke’s coach at one stage, so knows the Ulsterman’s game better than most, while he has had Lowry under close observation since he commentated on his win in the Irish Open as an amateur in 1999.
In one way, Murray is clearly proud of what Clarke has achieved, in another he is less than impressed at how he has performed since his great Open victory at Royal St Georges in 2010.
“I think Darren probably went down the wrong route after the Open win,” he reasons. “He had nothing to prove to anyone. He could play wherever he wanted. I didn’t think his swing needed to change. He’d won four times in five years, although when he did get a chance to win a Major, he was good enough and strong enough mentally and physically to go ahead and take it.
“Darren’s not someone who takes to technology as a serious science. He’s such a gifted natural golfer that my job teaching him was probably one of the easiest I’ve had in my life. It was so simple. I’d just point him in the right direction. When you did that, there was an excellence to his swing that was second to none. He’s a totally gifted and natural golfer. He’s gone down other routes and tried other things and I didn’t think that would work for him.”
Clarke (who showed a welcome return to form with a six-under-par 66 in the final round of the BMW PGA at Wentworth on Sunday) has lost so much weight over the past couple of years he is a shadow of the man he was five years ago. Murray isn’t convinced this has benefited his golf.
“If you look at David Duval back in 1999-2000, when he played his best golf, Craig Stadler who won the Masters was another example, both of these lost a lot of weight and with that, lost their form. When your body changes, your swing changes. I think his [Darren’s] weight loss is quite drastic.”
Shane Lowry is another many believe needs to shed a few pounds to realise his considerable potential. Murray, however, isn’t convinced.
“Well, the great thing is that we’re all different and, if Shane feels comfortable with how he is, that’s great,” he said. “He’s not drastically heavy. He’s a stocky lad and he’s fit. I think if you’re overweight, then you have a problem, but that’s not the case with Shane. Looking at the players who have made drastic changes, like the one I’ve mentioned, he’d be well advised to keep doing what he’s doing. Each year he’s got better.”
The injury that ruled Harrington out of Wentworth has been concentrating Murray’s mind.
“In all my time as a player and a commentator, I’ve never known so many players injured in the last four or five years overdoing things in the gym,” he warned. “Playing loads of golf is enough to keep you relatively fit and a small training regime might be a good idea. One or two of them go down a more ferocious road, and I’m surprised at that.”
Murray has never concealed his admiration for Harrington. So, does he believe his recent victory in the Honda Classic will be the precursor to a fourth major championship success?
“By Pádraig’s words and his saying how comfortable he feels when he gets in contention, I would say yes. What he has to do is get into contention. Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan in the US PGA this year might well suit him. It’s got a linksy feel to it and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harrington get into contention.”
As for Jimmy Bruen’s round of 66, returned 76 years ago, remaining the course record at Royal Co Down, Murray rationalised: “I’m pretty sure somebody will shoot in the mid sixties, but it all depends on the weather. Mother Nature will defend Royal Co Down. You’re not going to get four days of no wind, or even one or two days of no wind, so you won’t get low scores there. Believe me, Royal County Down will expose any weaknesses.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved