By Bernie McGuire in Abu Dhabi.
Maybe it was the new emerald green shirt he was wearing that he quizzed ‘Do you like it?’, or the links feel of this week’s host Yas Links course, or maybe it was the good vibes in being a past Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship champion?
Whatever as Shane Lowry superbly shook off thoughts of a disappointing Hero Cup campaign with an eagle and three birdies in a flawless five-under par round of 67 on the opening day of the $US9m event here in the UAE capital.
For Lowry, it was important in what he says is ticking a first box, among a number of boxes he feels he needs to tick ahead of the Masters.
Lowry was out early teeing-off at 7.30am local time from the 10th tee, and walking off a few minutes later with an opening hole birdie.
He stayed at one-under with nine straight pars ahead of the highlight of his round at the par-5 second hole or the 11th of his round in landing his approach shot to some 20-feet and holing the eagle putt.
It was then four pars in succession with Lowry birdieing his 16th and 17th holes ahead of a closing par.
“It was a good round to start off my regular season as you really don’t know how you are going to play getting a scorecard into your pocket at the start of any New Year,” said Lowry.
“So, pretty happy to be honest. I obviously played The Hero Cup last week, and I didn’t play as well or make as many points as I would have liked.
“You’re coming out here, first round of the year with a scorecard in your pocket; you don’t really know how it’s going to go. Good to get out and play some good golf, and to hole some putts towards the end was nice.”
While Lowry had walked from the course with a first competitive ‘individual tournament’ round under his belt, the subject turned to the season ahead, and of course all roads for Lowry leading later this year to Rome.
“The Ryder Cup, as I have been saying, is a big deal for me this year and you just have to be sure to be playing in all the big events this year, and it’s important to back yourself to play well,” he said.
“That’s what I have done over the last few years, and that’s my goal again this year. It is easy to get caught-up playing too much on the PGA Tour, and the thought you are playing for 500 FedEx Cup points every week.
“It’s why a lot of thought has gone into my schedule this year. I did not want to go to Hawaii as it was too early in the year, and I didn’t fancy going there without too much practice and having to shoot 30-under to win.
“I then looked at the PGA Tour schedule and there’s only other event on the West Coast I would have played and that’s the Farmers Insurance this year at Torrey Pines, so I am not going to play that this year.
“What I’ve done is group the three events I am playing out here into a box and then after a week off, I will be playing five in a row with the Honda Classic in the middle of the five.
“I have chosen a schedule that I feel will work for me and while I will play a little bit more over there than I would like, I’ll rest-up on the days I’m not playing and not also being getting to tournaments Mondays and Tuesdays, I feel it will work out.”
In talking about Lowry’s September dream, he grabbed the opportunity last week to speak to victorious 2014 Ryder Cup captain, and fellow Irishman Paul McGinley to pick his brain around what will best suit him in being on the European team.
“Chatting with Paul was valuable, and for me it’s all about ticking the boxes one day at a time, so the first quarter of my year finishes at the Masters,” Lowry said.
“Like today is a great start to the year shooting a 67, so I can tick off that box and then if I can keep ticking these boxes I have then by the time I do get to Augusta hopefully I would have ticked all the boxes between this round and the Masters”.
Among some of the tournaments Lowry will be adding to this year’s schedule, and saying that he ‘would not normally play’ is the Genesis Invitational (Feb 16th to 19th) and Wells Fargo Championship (May 4th to 7th).
Lowry stopped in naming the events he intends adding to his schedule, breaking out smiling to say: “I’m not going to get the violin out as we’re playing for $20m!”
European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald muscled his way to the top of the leader-board with a sizzling eight-under-par 64 and thanks to birdieing his closing four holes.
And not surprising as Donald had suggested last Sunday at the close-by Abu Dhabi Golf Club is that six players, who contested last week’s Hero Cup were inside the top-20 on the Yas Links leaderboard.
Along with Lowry is fellow Irishman Seamus Power posting a 66 to be in the clubhouse in fourth place, and on his maiden showing in the first of back-to-back Rolex Series events.
- Full scoring HERE