To many golfers, being touted as a potential major winner is the sort of endorsement they could do without. Yet far from feeling cursed after having his credentials boosted by Pádraig Harrington ahead of this week’s Open Championship, Shane Lowry seems perfectly at ease with the suggestion.
Harrington, Royal Birkdale’s most recent Open champion in 2008, on Monday said he felt 30-year-old Lowry had the game and the mindset forged from significant tournament victories in his career to get the job done at one of the famous links venues that play host to the oldest major.
The Offaly man has enjoyed some strong finishes in the majors to this point, with top-10s at the 2014 Open at Hoylake and the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay before narrowly missing out on the 2016 US Open title following a final-round 76 at Oakmont that left him in a tie for second behind Dustin Johnson.
That Lowry is in a place he feels ready to contend this week is a testament to that experience, a body of work that has given him the belief he can compete at the highest level.
“My second win in Portugal (the 2012 Portugal Masters) was huge for me at the time,” Lowry said. “I was doing all right, having good finishes and doing okay in the Race to Dubai. But to win again was great. It obviously took a couple of years but I won a massive tournament in America (the 2015 Bridgestone) and I definitely had the belief I could do that.
“It’s funny. Even though it might not look like you are in contention — I think I was three under going into the back nine at Chambers Bay on two or three under and five or six under won the tournament. So I felt I was in contention. That was the one where I felt like I really belong here.
“Yeah, I shot 65 in the final round at Hoylake to finish in the top 10. That was almost backing into a top 10 there. At Hoylake that year I had a putt on 18 for eagle from about 40 feet and I kind of was saying to myself, ‘you know what, if I hole this you never know what might happen the last few holes’. It was playing easy, but.
“I definitely think the (US) Open in Chambers Bay was where I felt really at home being where I was in the event.”
Translating that into success this week is helped by some solid current form that breeds further confidence he can contend this week.
“I feel like I’m hitting it solid. I feel good on the greens, chipping is decent as well. Feel like my game is there and feel like some week it’ll come together. Hopefully, it’ll be this week.
“The best golfers in the world are here. I’ll go out and give it my best. I’m playing ok. I felt like I played nicely at Portstewart (a fortnight ago at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open), and I played more golf last week than I’ve ever played on a week off, and a lot of links.
“I feel ready coming into it. I feel like I’m hitting the ball well. I feel like I don’t need to be here doing too much. I feel like I just need to get to know the golf course.”
As Lowry said, he has been playing plenty of links golf of late, following on from Portstewart with a non-competitive week playing sponsors’ outings at Portmarnock, Royal Dublin and Portmarnock Links last week, the latter in the company of footballer Robbie Keane.
Yet this week has been Lowry’s first visit to Royal Birkdale on the Lancashire coast and there has been an instant affection for the place, something that has proven beneficial to him in the past.
His affinity with Wentworth, home of the BMW PGA Championship, and Firestone Country Club in Akron, site of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which he won in 2015, has produced suitably excellent results in the past and he is hoping that similar feeling for Birkdale, a course he describes as “possibly one of the best courses I’ve ever played”, does likewise.
“It’s important to like it. Certain courses you go to, you don’t really like, even when you go back. No matter how well you are playing, it’s hard to get to like. It just goes to show you what I do in Wentworth every year. When I get to courses that I really like... When I got to Oakmont, I loved it straight away. When you get to certain places you just love it and you feel at home there. This certainly feels like one of those. It feels like it is going to be quite tough.
“I think it’s going to be windy. I think the forecast is not great, so there are going to be a lot of half shots, and a lot of knock-down shots, and a lot of chips and putts. It’s going to be a bit of a grind this week, which is nice, but when you know that at the start of the week, you can mentally prepare yourself for it.”
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