Making the extraordinary feel routine is a trick only the greats can master, and while Rory McIlroy is favourite to win his third Race to Dubai crown in four years, Shane Lowry has a fast-track to the Ryder Cup in mind at this week’s Turkish Airlines Open.
Both men are such good ball strikers and so tidy around the greens that their week to week demeanour can be determined by their success rate on the greens.
Dubbed a streaky putter recently by Paul McGinley, Race to Dubai leader McIlroy will tee it up alongside second ranked Danny Willett and fifth ranked Lowry at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal, hoping for an improved performance with the short stick.
On his last start in the Frys.com Open in California, the four-time major winner finished 26th on the leaderboard but just 71st for putting. “I definitely hole out much better than I used to do,” McIlroy claimed during a press conference at the Maxx Royal that came shortly after the announcement that Turkish Airlines will sponsor the $7m Final Series event for another three years at nearby Carya Golf Club.
“And when I get my eye in, I’m really good. I do hole a lot of putts. But yeah, I don’t get my eye in as much as I’d like to. So streaky, I’ll always be somewhat of a streaky putter.”
McIlroy reasoned that he will regularly hit 12 fairways and 14 greens, saying: “if you have a couple of good days at a tournament where a few putts go in, that can suddenly be a couple of seven- or eight-under rounds, and that’s really all you need.”
Still, he wants to be more consistent and rounding off his injury-hit “lost” year with a win at one of his last three events and a successful defence of the Race to Dubai title is clearly his goal.
“I feel like there’s a lot’s happened and a lot of time has gone by since that last win of mine back in May,” he said. “I want to try and get back into contention and no better place than this week.”
McIlroy does not want to play more than two events in a row to take pressure off his body (and his ankle) but when asked about next year’s schedule, he kicked for touch when asked if he’d defend the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow and then play The Players, the Irish Open and the BMW PGA at Wentworth in successive weeks.
“There’s potentially four in a row,” Mcilroy said, emphasising the ‘potentially’.
Pressed for a more specific reply that might ease the worries of the European Tour’s new chief executive Keith Pelley with regard to their flagship event at Wentworth, he said curtly, “I will answer that question closer to the time.”
Scheduling is going to be challenging for Lowry in 2016 as he plans to follow the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia under Ryder Cup skipper Darren Clarke by building up to the Masters with six PGA Tour events in a nine-week spell.
But the world No 17 is more concerned about finishing his best ever season on a high and knows that a win in one of his last five start — he’s playing the four Final Series events plus the Nedbank Golf Challenge — he can take a giant step towards the Top 10 in the world and a Ryder Cup debut.
Hoping to challenge McIlroy for the European crown, Lowry said: “If you look at the past few Ryder Cup campaigns, anyone who has won one of these tournaments has made the team.
“There have been a lot of firsts for me recently but this is the first time I have had a chance to do well in the Race to Dubai. I was 10th last year but I have a real chance of finishing up there this year. A couple of good weeks and I could get into the top 10 in the world.
“I want to in the Top 3 or 4 in the Race to Dubai going into the final event in Dubai with a chance going out on Thursday of winning the overall prize. That’s exactly where I am at.
“There is no point is saying I want to contend in that event or that event or whatever. This is the first event now and I just have to go out there and try and do it. And if I do well this week, I obviously have a better chance of doing that in Dubai.”
Lowry won’t be teeing it up with McIlroy trying to compare his game to the four-time major winner’s. And McIlroy also knows that he faces a tough competitor in his former Irish amateur team-mate.
“It’s been great to see,” McIlroy said of Lowry’s progression since winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August. “I think we’ve all known that Shane’s had the talent to do something like that.
“I watched the final nine holes of Akron when I was at Whistling Straits preparing, and it was quite a display of sort of guts down the stretch with the putt he held on 10 and the shots he hit coming down the stretch.
“It’s great to see him sort of push on from there. It’s always good to see when the guys from home do well.”
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