herald

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Irish men unfazed by daunting stage

McDowell upbeat as Lowry takes first taste of US Open in stride

IRISHMAN Graeme McDowell soaked up the summer sunshine at the start of US Open week at Congressional Country Club yesterday hoping to recover the sort of form that made him a champion last year.

The Blue Course looked spectacular as it bathed in blazing sunshine as McDowell and US Open rookie Shane Lowry began their first practice round of a week that both men will forever remember.

For Lowry, 24, the Clara man who sensationally won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, the 111 th US Open is an opportunity to test his ever-developing professional prowess in the most intimidating of golf ’s four major championships.

Though he was perfect company for Lowry, as his young fellow Irishman took his first steps into unfamiliar territory, McDowell faces by far the more formidable challenge this week as he tries to honour the title he won at Pebble Beach, California, last June.

He has had quite a fraught time on the golf course in recent months, but McDowell and his coach expressed confidence yesterday that the three days of intensive hard work they put in last weekend on the range at the Lake Nona resort in Orlando has resolved a minor glitch in his swing.

What a difference a year and four missed cuts in eight tournaments can make … yet it pales alongside the change McDowell has noted in the Blue Course at Congressional since he first played it last month. Taken aback by the severity of the course on that occasion, McDowell suggested “nobody would break par” over 72 holes on such a monster.

However, he was pleasantly surprised yesterday by how much the complexion of the course had changed.

“Coming here today, the golf course is playing at least 10pc shorter, maybe 20pc shorter,” he said. “It’s different from what I saw six or seven weeks ago and I feel better about that. It’s much more playable in terms of length.”

McDowell believes the race for the US Open title this week is “wide open”.

“The winner is going to be someone who is smart at flighting their irons into the greens and then chips and putts well after that,” he said.

FORMIDABLE

Congressional’s formidable reputation is undiminished … so it was intriguing to follow Lowry as he strode onto this daunting stage for the first time.

Lowry rose to the challenge well and his first day at golf’s hardest ‘school’ was best summed up by his performance on the 579-yard, par-five 16th hole. After hitting his tee shot a good 300 yards into the heart of the fairway, Lowry missed the green way right with his four-iron. He then hit a sweet wedge shot into the bank and onto the elevated putting surface.

Lowry is driving the ball well enough to fulfil the primary objective of any of this week’s US Open hopefuls and consistently hit his ball into the fairway. Meanwhile, his touch around the greens will stand him in good stead.

Overall, he took his first taste of the action well within his stride. “It’s a nice enough course,” he said with a smile. “I just rolled up here this morning and did my own thing. That’s the way I am, lads, easy-going.”

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