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Sunday 25 August 2019

Offaly's Lowry is on a high again

Shane Lowry celebrates his victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January
Shane Lowry celebrates his victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January

Tomorrow evening, the winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is likely to be in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise watching the All-Ireland SFC Qualifier between Offaly and Laois.

Despite Laois being favourites, Shane Lowry will be optimistic when he takes his seat for this local derby.

The Clara man looks at the upside, taking the positives out of how his team "hammered" Sligo in the last round.

If ever there was a season for Lowry to manage expectations, this is it.

In January, the genial giant got his year off to a sensational start by beating a field in the UAE that included Ian Poulter, Brooks Koepka, Matt Wallace and Tommy Fleetwood to pick up a winner's cheque for a million plus.

"Expectation is a dangerous thing," Shane said in April.

"I played the last few months of last year with not much expectation and went into Abu Dhabi with not much, and you win there, and the expectations from yourself and others creep up, and it's a tough one to get right."

Lowry might be too tough on himself.

The only thing some of us expect from him is the thrill of the unexpected.

Like, for example, how he went from missing the cut at the Master at Augusta, where Tiger Woods stole the show, to bringing his supporters on a nerve-jangling spin the following week at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head where, two shots off the lead, he tied for third.

He wasn't too shabby at Hamilton seven weeks later when he finished joint second behind an imperious Rory McIlroy in the Canadian Open.

Unwinding

Counting a tie for eight in the PGA Championship, you'd have to say a run of three top-ten finishes in a row on the PGA Tour is not to be sneezed at.

And here we are with Offaly playing Laois and Lowry unwinding ahead of the pressures that are starting to build as his schedule heats up and Lahinch beckons and a few weeks later, The Open Championship in Portrush.

Lowry understands as well as any sports person the mercurial nature of form.

As he says, "When I went out to play in the first round of the US Open two weeks ago, I felt as good about my game as I've ever done in my life. That I didn't play well that day didn't upset me, because I knew I would be able to come out and play well on the Friday. And I did."

There'll be some big guns ranged against him at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

With 7,000 Race-to-Dubai points up for grabs, four-time European Tour winner Matt Wallace will be hoping to extend the lead he holds following his seven top-20 finishes this season.

Impressive

Others in the Race rankings include Ian Poulter and Louis Oosthuizen, as well as Lowry, who's currently third.

Previous winners of the season-long Race - Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood - will also be teeing off in Lahinch next week.

Lowry finished last season at 74 in the world rankings.

His impressive form so far this season has seen him rise dramatically to 35. A hot streak in County Clare would elevate him even further.

But as part of his preparations and coping with the psychological build-up to a tournament on home soil, Shane admits, "I'm going to try not to think about it. But I'd love to just go there and give myself a chance."

Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington, in-form Graeme McDowell, former Open Champion Darren Clarke and 2017 British Masters winner Paul Dunne will ensure that Irish interests are catered for next week.

Waterford's Irish Olympian, Séamus Power, who tied for sixth just one shot behind Lowry at Hilton Head will be back after a six-year absence.

Power has been showing good form this season with a tied fifth in the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and a T13 in the Wells Fargo Championship in May.

With Lowry coming to Lahinch on the back of what he says is, "definitely the best first half of a season I have had in my whole career", Irish eyes will be on the Offaly golfer.

"I'll be all out to give it my very best for the four days in Co Clare," he vows.

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