Shane Lowry will be hoping to take advantage of the massive pressure on Rory McIlroy’s shoulders by dumping his pal out of next week’s $8.75m WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona.
While he could end up facing world No 2 Tiger Woods in the first round if there is a withdrawal from the 64-man field before Friday’s deadline, the Offaly star knows McIlroy’s accidented start to his multi-millon dollar Nike deal could play into his hands in Tucson.
“Rory is going to have a lot of pressure on him after that,” Lowry said in reference to McIlroy’s missed cut on his debut with Nike clubs in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago. “But Rory is Rory and he is not the best golfer in the world for nothing, so it’s going to be a very tough match.
“He is going to be coming out with all guns blazing next week trying to prove everyone wrong, but I will have nothing to lose.
“I’m not saying I’d have a better chance of beating Rory [than Tiger] but I would be more comfortable playing him. It’s going to be good craic and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s not like we have this big rivalry or anything. I’m sure we may even have a practice round and go out to dinner.”
Whoever Lowry faces on Wednesday week, he knows he was lucky to make the field for Tucson at 65th in the world rankings.
Phil Mickelson’s decision to skip the event for the third time in four years meant that Lowry could afford to drop one place in the world rankings at the weekend and still book his tickets for Arizona.
Richard Sterne duly went past him when he won the Joburg Open. But 25-year old Lowry, who was greeted by former Irish amateur team mate McIlroy bearing champagne when he won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, could also have been passed by Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson had American rookie Patrick Reed not made an improbable 72nd hole birdie in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday night.
By making four despite almost driving into the Pacific left of the 18th, Reed’s share of seventh place with Jacobson prevented the Swede from snatching the final qualifying place for Tucson by a miniscule 0.0002 world ranking points.
Lowry hadn’t the heart to watch the action in California but kept abreast of his situation through Twitter and texts from friends.
“It was a bit of a long weekend and I tried to ignore it to be honest,” said Lowry, who feared the worst until he heard of Reed’s dramatic birdie.
Now he believes that Reed’s helping hand could be a good omen for the rest of the season and he hopes to take fill advantage.
“It wasn’t looking good for me but when stuff like that happens it makes you think that good things are on the way,” Lowry said of his narrow escape. “Golf is a funny game and you need a bit of luck and the odd break here and there.
“I’ve had a good break so now it’s a question of trying to take advantage of it next week. I will just have to take it one match of a time and hopefully I can cause a big upset in the first round and you never know what can happen after that. I can’t wait.”
Whoever he ends of facing in the Arizona desert, Lowry knows he can’t afford to play average golf, recalling how Graeme McDowell got dumped out in the first round last year despite making a hatful of birdies
“I think Graeme was six or seven under in the first round last year and was home in Orlando at 4 o’clock on Wednesday evening,” Lowry said.
“All I can do is go out and try and make as many birdies as I can without throwing away holes, which is huge against players like Rory or Tiger.
“If I end up playing Tiger, obviously it is going to be quite intimidating so I have to try to get a game plan in place and get my frame of mind right to give myself the best opportunity to win.”
While Lowry is not putting pressure on himself to qualify for the Masters, making the field for Tucson gives him a chance to make a run at the world’s top 50 who qualify on March 31.
A big week could catapult him into the world’s top 50 and earn him a place in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral two weeks later.
But Lowry is prepared to be patient and has a back up plan in place in the form of a sponsor’s invite for the PGA Tour’s clashing Puerto Rico Open if he fails to qualify for the Miami event.
Earning a Master invitation would be a dream come true but having already seen his game suffer this year by trying too hard to make the world’s top 50, he’s prepared to be patient.
“If I don’t get into the Masters this year, I am sure I will get in next year or the year after that,” he said. “I am sure at some stage I will get in and play plenty of Masters.
“I am very comfortable that if I keep going the way I am going, I will eventually be in the top 50 in the world and playing all the big events.”
While the top 64 in the OWGR are qualified for the event, players have until Friday, February 15, at 5 p.m. ET to officially commit to the tournament.
The 2013 bracket and tee times will be unveiled on Sunday, February 17, once the OWGR is updated following the conclusion of the Northern Trust Open on the PGA TOUR.
The draw could look like this:
Rory McIlroy v Shane Lowry
Tiger Woods v Charles Howell-III
Luke Donald v Marcel Siem
Brandt Snedeker v K.J. Choi
Justin Rose v Richie Ramsay
Louis Oosthuizen v Chris Wood
Adam Scott v Tim Clark
Lee Westwood v Rafael Cabrera Bello
Bubba Watson v Stephen Gallacher
Ian Poulter v Russell Henley
Jason Dufner v Richard Sterne
Steve Stricker v Thongchai Jaidee
Sergio Garcia v Marcus Fraser
Keegan Bradley v Henrik Stenson
Charl Schwartzel v David Lynn
Dustin Johnson v Alexander Noren
Webb Simpson v Thomas Bjorn
Graeme McDowell v Padraig Harrington
Peter Hanson v David Toms
Nick Watney v Hiroyuki Fujita
Matt Kuchar v John Senden
Bo Van Pelt v Matteo Manassero
Ernie Els v Jason Day
Zach Johnson v Ryan Moore
Hunter Mahan v George Coetzee
Martin Kaymer v Thorbjorn Olesen
Jim Furyk v Nicolas Colsaerts
Branden Grace v Robert Garrigus
Jamie Donaldson v Scott Piercy
Gonzalo Fdez-Castano v Bill Haas
Paul Lawrie v Francesco Molinari
Rickie Fowler v Carl Pettersson.