Shane Lowry’s quest for retribution at the Honda Classic started with a two-under 68 at PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach, Florida.
Solo second last year, Lowry looked primed for his third PGA Tour win until an incredible finish from Sepp Straka and biblical rain intervened to literally and figuratively pour cold water on Lowry’s title aspirations, and after a strong performance at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, arrives back on the PGA Tour’s Florida swing as one of the tournament favourites.,
Putting has been an issue for Lowry all season, however, and the demon reared its head on the opening hole – the tenth – as he missed a four-footer for par, but solid pars on 11 and 12 were followed by a birdie at the 13th to move the Offaly man back to level par. He’d miss two more makable putts on 14 and 15, but a beautiful 9-iron on the 17th – the last of the three-hole stretch known as the ‘Bear Trap’ – almost went in the hole for an ace, leaving a simple tap in to get to red figures.
He’d drop back to level with a bogey on the 2nd, but back-to-back birdies on the sixth and seventh holes brought him to two-under, and he’d par his way home from there. PGA National is one of the hardest courses on the PGA Tour circuit, but tee-to-green Lowry was superb, gaining over 4-strokes on the field, but lost almost two strokes on the greens.
“Yeah, I do like golf where if you break 70 you’re pretty happy with your self,” Lowry told the waiting press afterwards. “I am happy with 2-under today. It’s just most holes out there are tricky. The wind lay down for most of the day. Wasn’t really up that much. It was as gettable as this course gets.
“Yeah, I played nice. I didn’t hole as many putts as I would have liked. I felt like I could have shot a couple better. But I’m happy all in all.”
Despite a big improvement on the greens on the weekend at Riviera, it was a struggle at times today, not just for Lowry, but for Webb Simpson and Ryan Palmer who he was grouped with.
“It was very tough,” he said. “The greens, there’s a lot more grass on them than I remember here. They’re very grainy. I know in our group we all struggled with the pace of the greens. It was hard when you’re 20 feet and you don’t want to leave yourself too many 3-, 4-, 5-footers with a lot of grain around the hole. So yeah, you’re just trying to drop them in from 20 feet. It was quite hard to judge the pace.”
This is the 2019 Open Champion’s third event since parting ways with caddie Brian ‘Bo’ Martin, and feels that the new partnership with Darren Reynolds is starting to bed in nicely. “It’s going well. Darren and I are getting on well. I like the way we’re working. Obviously our first week wasn’t the best start, but things have been going well the last couple of weeks and long may it continue.”
Padraig Harrington, meanwhile, has work to do if he’s to earn himself a weekend tee time after the three-time major champion opened with a two-over round of 72. Harrington carded just one birdie, this coming on the par 4 13th, and offset this with three bogeys coming at the sixth, 10th and 17th holes, leaving him in a tie for 83rd after round one.
Billy Horschel and Joseph Bramlett set the clubhouse lead early on, both shooting impressive rounds of -5 with the wind picking up midway through the round.
“Obviously early on the wind wasn’t blowing and you could get, take some advantage of it,” said world number 19 Horschel. “Then right around probably number 13 it started picking up a little bit. Picked up for six, seven holes. Then it laid down the last four, five holes for us. So conditions are, for here it’s pretty ideal in the sense of wind.
“The course is really receptive. It’s not nearly as firm and as fast as it has been in the past. I think that’s sort of a conscious thing they have done. The rough’s down a little bit. So, yeah, the course itself is a little bit softer and it’s lending itself to some better scores. But you still got to hit quality golf shots around here. It’s not like it’s just easy now. You still got to step up and make some good swings on a lot of these holes.”