Patience is a virtue but Shane Lowry confessed it was a putting tip from Graeme McDowell as much as his resolve that helped him open with a sensational 65 in The Players at TPC Sawgrass.
Twelve months after carding rounds of 73 and 74 on his debut to miss the halfway cut by three strokes, Lowry looked to be heading for another average round when he turned for home with one birdie and one bogey on his card.
Then, like magic, putts that had shaved the hole all season began to drop and a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start to the back nine was polished off with further birdies at the 16th and 18th in a homeward run of seven under 29.
It all added up to just 22 putts for a 65 that was good enough for a brief share of the clubhouse lead before world No 1 Jason Day equalled the course record less than an hour later with an immaculate, nine under par 63.
Lowry wasn’t too bothered by that and having struggled for results this season, this was the round he desperately needed as the race for Ryder Cup qualifying points begins in earnest and the second major of the year approaches.
“To be honest, I hadn’t much confidence coming into this week,” Lowry confessed after his joint low round of the year that brought a promise to buy McDowell a beer in thanks. “I actually got a little putting tip from Graeme McDowell yesterday when we played nine holes and it seemed to help.
“I felt like I putted quite nicely. Even though I was only level after nine I was playing nicely. I missed a couple of putts for birdies but I was burning the edges. So it was nice to be hitting good putts for a change. And nice to shoot a great score on the back nine and a great score overall.”
With Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell all late starters, Lowry got off to a solid start in perfect morning conditions when he got up and down from green side rough for birdie at the second, holing a 13 footer.
But having put together few hots streaks of scoring so far this season — his only top 10 so far came in Phoenix in early February when he also opened with 65 and ended up tied sixth — he found sand off the tee at the sixth and bogeyed before catching fire on the way home It all began when a 35 footer fell for birdie four at the 424-yard 10th and he followed that by chipping in for an eagle three at the 11th.
Suddenly three under par, Lowry hit a 109-yard wedge to just five feet at the 12th and after rolling home that putt, he made another from just inside six feet for a two at the 181-yard 13th. Great rounds often feature great saves but Lowry almost made birdie from trouble right of the 14th, hitting a 173-yard approach from the wood to 10 feet.
He had to make a seven footer for par after another pushed drive led to a missed green at the 15th. But he was right back on track at the par-five 16th, putting up dead from a few paces short of the green to go six under for the day.
The par-three 17th has ruined many cards but with the pin cut at the front, his 124 yard sand wedge finished inside 10 feet and he walked away with a safe par. A sensational 331-yard tee shot at the 18th hugged the water-line, leaving Lowry just 132 yards to the pin. A sand wedge to 12 feet ended with another birdie as he rammed home the putt.
“I got aggressive on the last, hit driver down and had a sand wedge in again” Lowry said with a grin. “I hit it the putt a bit too hard but thankfully it went in the middle.
“Around this golf course you just need to be patient. There are a lot of guys going low today and the greens are quite receptive. I can imagine they are going to firm up and I go off late tomorrow afternoon. So between now and tomorrow, I’d imagine they are going to be a lot firmer.
“It’s just important to try and stay patient, try and pick your birdies off when you can and when you get in trouble, try and make pars .”
Day’s 63 left him two ahead of Lowry, Cameron Tringale, Justin Rose, Bill Haas and Brendan Steele with playing partner Jordan Spieth forced to settle for a 72 after being three under with five to go.
World No 2 Spieth bogeyed the fifth and sixth and then followed a birdie at the seventh with a closing, double bogey seven at the ninth where he took five to get down from the bunker, fluffing a shot and a chip before missing a three and a half footer.
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