Shane Lowry hasn’t commuted to Baltray this week in one of those plush courtesy cars to which Europe’s finest golf professionals have become accustomed.
Instead, the 22-year-old Irish amateur piloted his modest Mitsubishi Colt through mud and rain to the ‘3’ Irish Open, parking it on the grass at the rear of the clubhouse at Co Louth.
On the golf course, however, Lowry has driven himself into history, producing a Rolls Royce performance as he purred into a two stroke lead at the head of a world class field with a phenomenal second round 62.
“I’ll never forget this day as long as I live,” said the beefy and bespectacled young man from Clara in Co Offaly.
‘Pink Friday’ might have opened as one of the gloomiest and most dismally dank days at this weather-bedevilled event — yet as the sun came out yesterday afternoon, Lowry and Graeme McDowell, the pride of Portrush, blazed their way into folklore.
First, McDowell shattered course and tournament records with a sensational 61, the best round on the European Tour this year and a staggering 16 strokes better than the 77 which had left this classy performer frustrated and bemused in a tie for 150th place, on Thursday.
McDowell had shot 61 once before in a practice round during his college days in Alabama. He twice posted rounds of 62 on the European Tour in 2004 but he’d never dipped lower with a card in his hand.
Padraig Harrington had headed off to lunch happy that the satisfying 68, his first sub-par effort in 11 rounds since Thursday at last month’s US Masters, would see him comfortably through the cut on three-under.
Yet by day’s end, Ireland’s triple-Major Champion would miss the weekend at a golf tournament for the fourth time in a miserable season as the guillotine fell at 140, four-under, the lowest ever cut at his national open.
Just 20 of the 73 players who made it into today’s third round draw played is the same half of the draw with Harrington yesterday morning and only seven of them are Irish — Lowry (-15), Rory McIlroy (-7), McDowell (-6), Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Gary Murphy (all -5) and Damien McGrane (-4).
Astounding and amazing are two words which come to mind for Lowry’s performance.
Lowry’s ambition is to play in September’s Ryder Cup, followed by his second visit in 12 months to the European Tour’s Q-School.
After following up Thursday’s first round 67 with yesterday’s sensational effort, however, he has every right to harbour hopes of emulating New Zealander Danny Lee’s victory as an amateur in this season’s Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia, which is part of the European Tour schedule.
Asked if he was thinking in terms of victory tomorrow night, Lowry admitted: “It’s hard not to, to be honest. I’m just going to go out and try to play golf at the weekend and see how it goes from there.
“If I won, it would open all new doors for me but I am just going to go out and play the best that I can,” he added. Lowry will be entitled to a two year exemption on the European Tour from the day he turns professional if he manages to keep the rest of the field at bay this weekend.
Judging by the quality of his play over the past two days, Lowry, currently 16th in the world ama
teur rankings after three years of playing fulltime yielded prestige and trophies at home and abroad, has absolutely nothing to fear this weekend.
He performed with real class yesterday, from the moment he chipped in from 10 yards at the opening hole for the first of his nine birdies. Lowry would hole out from off the green once again at six, this time for eagle.
As he stood over a six foot birdie putt at 10, Lowry knew a place alongside Paul Lawrie at the head of the field awaited if he put his ball in the cup.
His only slip of the day came at the daunting par four 11th hole, when Lowry narrowly failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker. Once again, however, he held his nerve, putting from 15 feet for birdie at 12.
Lowry’s putt from off the green at the final hole actually went within 18 inches of the cup and an eagle three which would have equalled McDowell’s course record.
The Ulsterman was among those impressed by Lowry’s efforts so far at this championship. “Shane’s had a great couple of years on the amateur scene in Ireland and I realise he’s one of the top amateur players we have at the minute. Hat’s off to him, he’s obviously an incredible player.”
Better, perhaps, than Rory McIlroy? “No, I wouldn’t even put myself in the same league as Rory is at this stage,” he replied with admirable modesty.
McDowell’s own effort yesterday were equally remarkable as he ripped into the defenceless links, playing the opening six holes in a sensational seven-under par, courtesy of five birdies and an eagle three at the third.
Another birdie at eight put him eight-under at that stage, inevitably sparking thoughts of making the first 59 on the European Tour. “In some ways, bogeying 13 might be the best thing that ever happened to me. It kind of gave me the kick I needed to refocus and try and finish off the job,” added McDowell.
So a day which began with McDowell simply setting out to restore his pride after Thursday’s 77 and go all-out to make the cut, ended in ecstasy. “You know, I was extremely disappointed with Thursday’s performance in front of my home crowd.
“At the same time I took a lot of positives away from it because I had not played that badly. I’d driven the ball poorly and while I was like Jack Nicklaus on the greens today, I putted like Jack Duckworth on Thursday.”