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Lowry is fired-up for knock-out swing at Lahinch

 

Home favourite: Shane Lowry is the highest ranked Irish player at Lahinch
Home favourite: Shane Lowry is the highest ranked Irish player at Lahinch

By Brian Keogh

Shane Lowry is contemplating taking the gloves off this week and going on the offensive for a second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open victory.

With Rory McIlroy the big absentee at Lahinch, the Offaly man is the great home hope and he knows that a win worth a whopping €1.16m would catapult him to the top of the Race to Dubai and make him one of the favourites for The Open.

But it's an uneasy position for the affable Offaly man (32), who has learnt from painful experience that puffing his chest out is not a tactic that works for him.

"I think golfers are like that, aren't we?" he said. "We are not like boxers. We don't stand there and say, 'I am definitely going to win'. I know how fickle this game is and I know it can jump up and bite you quicker than you expect.

"I suppose I am playing down expectations. And I do have expectations or I wouldn't be here this week. But I am just trying to play them down in my own head and go out and play my own game."

Lowry will tee it up with defending champion Russell Knox and World No.20 Tommy Fleetwood, who would be more to his liking for a boxing-style, pre-tournament face-off than the beefy Basque star Jon Rahm.

"I wouldn't fancy my chances against him," Lowry joked. "Maybe someone smaller. It might make it a bit more interesting, but we're not that interesting!"

Lowry is far from boring in the way he bobs and weaves when it comes to the thorny question of high hopes - his own and those of the fans.

And while Lahinch has never been a happy hunting ground for him - he never got past the last 16 in three appearances in the South of Ireland as an amateur - he's a far stronger contender, pound-for-pound, than before.

While Lahinch can land some haymakers if the wind gets up, he knows he may have to get on the front foot from the bell.

"I think there's a lot of drivers out there so I think you have to be quite aggressive," Lowry said.

"If you could somehow drop four, five, six birdies in a day, then you go a long way to getting yourself towards a winning score because you're probably going to make bogeys there and you are going to get your odd bad bounce."

Lowry knows he's playing some of the best golf of his career and there's no reason why he can't dare to dream, even if he stops short of victory talk.

"I'm feeling good," he admitted. "It's probably the best form-wise I've ever come into an Irish Open, I suppose.

"But I'm doing my best to try and play down expectations and just go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.

"On this golf course, you can get a score going round here, but it can get away from you very quickly as well, so I just need to relax and enjoy it and do the usual things and take it one shot at a time and not get too ahead of myself."

It's been ten years since Lowry burst onto the scene, winning the Irish Open as an amateur at County Louth in 2009. But he can't even imagine what winning for a second time might mean.

"I don't think anything will top 2009," he said with a wince.

"I don't want to even want to start thinking about what it would mean to win the Irish Open again. I just kind of try not to think about it.

"I'm 32 now and hopefully I've got another 15 or 20 Irish Opens in me. And hopefully, I'll give myself a few chances, and one of them is this week.

"If I do get a chance, I'll be giving it my best to take it with both hands."

Meanwhile, defending champion Russell Knox wouldn't change Lahinch's crown jewels for the world.

The Scot expects players to moan about the blind approach to the Klondyke (fourth), followed swiftly by the blind par-three fifth (the Dell), but he's ready to embrace those iconic challenges with a smile.

"Four is probably the smallest fairway I've ever seen out of any hole anywhere in the world," he said. "But it does all kick in from the hills. But I mean, hit over a mound to a hole where there's out of bounds right behind the green, it is what it is. It's a cool hole.

"Back in the day, I played similar holes at courses I grew up playing. But you wouldn't even go up to the top of the hill when you were a junior. Oh, just hit it over the rock, there you go, just get it down there, and get on with it. So it's all about your attitude and just how you go into it."

Host Paul McGinley has had the Tour install a video screen at the Dell so the players on the tee and the fans sitting in the stand behind can see a possible hole-in-one.

"All of those things were done to mitigate the fact it is a blind shot," McGinley said. "And one of the thrills of having a hole in one is to see the ball go in."

As for the Klondyke, which is a par-five for members, Knox admits he climbed the big dune that blocks out the players' view of the green rather than rely on his caddie for the line.

"Never listen to your caddie," he joked. "I think all the players will go up and take a look, to give yourself a reference."

Lahinch underwent a major revamp in 1999 and Knox agrees that the club and course architect Dr Martin Hawtree made the correct decision to leave Lahinch's iconic fourth and fifth holes unchanged.

"That's what makes this course different," he said. "If those holes were just flattened and it was normal and then it would maybe just be another links course."

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