Lowry hit by mystery virus
Amid all the razzamatazz stirred by Rory McIlroy's metamorphosis into golfing genius over the past three months, his one-time foursomes partner on the Irish amateur team, Shane Lowry, has been steadily climbing the world ladder.
If anything, this week's DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour's £5m end-of-season showpiece, was going to be of far more significance to Clara man Lowry (25), than Holywood's world No 1.
McIlroy wrapped up his eagerly-awaited first Race to Dubai title in Singapore three weeks ago, in the process emulating Luke Donald's history-making feat of topping the Money Lists in Europe and the US in the same season. So there's only pride and the prospect of a £837,000 first place cheque at stake for the Holywood star this weekend.
Lowry, meanwhile, had been relishing the opportunity to pass a few personal milestones on the Earth Course in Dubai this weekend ... making events of the past 48 hours in Dubai even harder to stomach, if he'll forgive an appalling if unintended pun, for the Clara man.
Taken to hospital yesterday morning by his management team after they became concerned about the searing headache and persistent vomiting which had forced him to withdraw from Tuesday's Pro-Am, Lowry's hopes of bringing 2012 to a resounding climax next Sunday hang in the balance.
At least he has some chance of striking the tee shot at the first hole which would guarantee him the cheque for £15,577 which goes to the player in 57th and last place in the elite field, propelling Lowry's earnings over the $1mark in only his fourth season on tour. However, Lowry has bigger targets in his sights this weekend — if he is able to play.
Should he improve on his share of eighth place behind Alvaro Quiros in this event last year, for example, he would propel himself into the all-important top 50 in the world for the first time which, on December 31, gets an invite to April's US Masters at Augusta.
Heartbreakingly, Lowry's untimely illness, which doctors suspect was brought about by a stomach virus, looks set to deny him that chance.
Yes, Lowry performed the sporting equivalent of ‘Mission Impossible' in May 2009 at Baltray when he emerged from a rain-whipped, wind-tossed tournament as the first amateur winner of the Irish Open, but to contend in Dubai this week would require a miracle.
In the wake of his first victory as a professional at last month's Portugal Masters, this beefy bon viveur found fresh momentum. Now he must hope to carry it over into the New Year.
Remarkably, four of the six Irish players who have made it to Dubai have been struggling with illness of one kind or another.
McIlroy has shaken off the head cold that troubled him in Hong Kong last week and Michael Hoey has recovered from the painful ear infection that blighted him in Singapore.
However, Padraig Harrington was only yesterday beginning to feel free from the grip of the flu bug that allowed him leave his hotel room on only four occasions last week to play two practice rounds and then just 36 holes of the Hong Kong Open.
Consigned to his second missed cut in succession, he returned to his bed for the weekend. “I had more room service in a week than I've had in 16 years on Tour,” Harrington quipped.
If Harrington who made the cut at all four Majors this season turns up today, he can contend on a course which plays right into the hands of Europe's longest-hitters.
In the absence of non-qualifier Quiros, Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts and his Medinah team-mate Peter Hanson of Sweden are prominent on that list.
Yet Euro-Tiger McIlroy, if sharp and hungry once again, is the man everyone else in the 60-strong field knows they have to beat.