History beckons for the all-Ireland pairing of Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell after brilliantly muscling their way to a share of the lead heading to the final round of the QBE Shootout at the Tiburon course in Naples, Florida.
Lowry and McDowell gelled superbly to come from five shots behind at the start of the second day in the modified alternate shot format to record an eight-under par 64 and be tied at the top on 18-under par in wet and windy weather that really was more akin to Ireland than Florida.
The Irish pair managed an eagle and six birdies in the $US 3.3m event where the winners will be handed $US 410,00 each.
McDowell and Lowry ended their round with the clubhouse lead before being joined on 18-under par by the first day leading pair of Steve Stricker and Sean O’Hair who strugged to post a three-under par 69 after their sizzling 15-under par 57 start in the sauna-like weather on Friday.
Lowry and McDowell, the only non-Americans among the 24 players, brilliantly kick-started their quest to the top in eagling the opening hole to move to 12-under par after Friday’s effort of a 10-under par 62 that McDowell described as ‘average’ given the format.
They then birdied the second hole to move to 13-under par before going to 15-under with back-to-back birdies at the seventh and eighth holes.
Lowry, who is contesting the Greg Norman hosted event for a first occasion, then birdied the dog-leg right par-4 10th hole to take the team to 16-under par while McDowell, teeing-up for a sixth occasion, stole the limelight in holing a long birdie putt from off the front of the green at the par-4 13th that put the team into the lead at 17-under par.
But if there was a McDowell ‘shot of the day’ it was at the par-5 14th, playing a magnificent bunker fourth shot from a Lowry plugged lie to just some two -feet from the flag to allow Lowry to hole a great saving par.
“I impressed myself with that bunker shot on 14 and to be fair to my partner my lay-up wasn’t very good and I left him 20-yards further back from where he should have been,” said McDowell.
“But then he didn’t leave me much for my next as it was a fairly plugged lie and with these fairly big bunkers we have here at Tiburon, so my number one thought was just to get the ball out and don’t leave in it there.”
“So, the ball came out perfectly and my short-game coach, Pete Cowen who was walking around with us and I figured I better put on a show for him and it came out nicely.”
Lowry helped see the team go to 19-under in almost holing his wedge second shot for an eagle at the par-4 15th leaving G Mac the easiest of birdie tap-in’s to get to a combined 18-under par.
A par followed at the par-3 16th before a little controversy down the left side of the par-5 17th when Lowry had driven off the tee and McDowell found the ball lying in sand but in a hole made by a TV camera tripod. The pair called for a ruling but were denied a ‘free’ drop but with McDowell quickly taking his hand off, his shot advanced less than 50-yards.
From there Lowry found the green and then two-putted for a par.
Thankfully Lowry had found the fairway on 18 as McDowell then stood-up but played a poor drive that rolled off the fairway and into a hazard running all the way left of the hole en route to the duo managing a closing par and their 18-under tally.
“We just got off to a nice start and G Mac and myself said to ourselves at the start of the week that it would be nice to go to dinner on Saturday night with the chance of being in contention and we are,” said Lowry.
“So we have managed to do that. It is a fun week here and we are clearly having a nice time. While it is a different format we don’t get to play too much, it’s been nice to come here and hopefully the weather plays its part tommorrow.”
McDowell, who last teamed with Gary Woodland to finish sixth in 2015, said: “Shane and I both felt a fast start was key today and so that we can have something to hang onto and as it turned-out that eagle-birdie start was great to get our confidence up.”
“We both hit some nice tee shots early on and also hit some nice iron shots and also holed some nice putts. So, it was nice to get into the round that way and hopefully we can finish off the job tommorrow.”
In the 26-year history all but six of the winning teams have been an all-American pairing. Only once, and that was in 1998 when the ‘Down Under’ duo of Greg Norman and Steve Elkington came out on top, have the winners both been from outside the US.
The last non all-American team to win came in 2014 when Aussie Jason Day won with American Cameron Tringale as his team-mate.