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Lowry could lead Europe in Ryder Cup: Harrington

Good friends: Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington could find themselves in the thick of the Ryder Cup battle next year
Good friends: Shane Lowry and Padraig Harrington could find themselves in the thick of the Ryder Cup battle next year

By Brian Keogh

Padraig Harrington does not see The Open as a stepping stone for Shane Lowry but confirmation that he's arrived at the summit and ready for Europe's Ryder Cup defence in the US next year.

Qualifying for the 2020 clash of Harrington's European team with Steve Stricker's USA does not begin until September's BMW PGA at Wentworth.

But Harrington believes that the new World No.17 and Race to Dubai leader is not the kind of player the Americans will relish facing at Whistling Straits by windy Lake Michigan.

Asked if he wanted the new Open champion to lead his team into battle, Harrington said: "Yes. It is likely to be windy, tough conditions. Shane is a strong player - obviously, he can handle the pressure. I really hope he is leading the team out."

While Sunday's epic six-shot win at Royal Portrush was only Lowry's fourth in a 10-year professional career - his first came as an amateur in the 2009 Irish Open at County Louth - the man who opened the floodgates for a string of European Major successes does not believe the Offaly man has anything more to prove.

For the Dubliner, talk of The Open as a stepping stone for Lowry is wide of the mark.

"This is as good as it gets in golf," Harrington said. "It was brilliant.

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"He has proved he can win on the big, big occasions. He proved he can handle the pressure.

"This isn't a catalyst - this is it. This is what it is.

"You shouldn't think of this as a stepping stone, you should think of this as where he is. I don't think too many players in the game of golf would relish playing against him in the final rounds."

Given the quality of his previous wins - the Irish Open as a 22-year-old amateur, the Portugal Masters in 2012 for his first as a pro and those heart-stopping victories in the 2015 WGC Bridgestone Invitational and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship back in January - Harrington knew Lowry had the right stuff to win a Major

"Every tournament he has won has been a big win at that stage of his career," he said. "He has the ability to win under extreme pressure."

Graeme McDowell, who was with Harrington and the Lowry entourage at the 18th green for Sunday's victory walk, says Lowry's loss of his full PGA Tour playing privileges last year turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"This is a game of confidence," said McDowell, who also lost his PGA Tour card but won it back with victory in the Dominican Republic in March.

"When you are not playing well, you can get the confidence knocked out of you very quickly in this sport, especially on the PGA Tour.

"I think he came back from the States and he remembered who he was again. He won in Abu Dhabi, and he has been Shane Lowry again.

"When I look back, losing his card in the States last year was the best thing that ever happened to him because it gave him that little kick you need to re-focus and re-motivate and get himself where he wanted to be."

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