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Sunny side up for desert Irish

Graeme McDowell during the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ieGraeme McDowell and Shane Lowry should have been the happiest of the four Irish hopefuls who did battle in the WGC-Accenture Match Play before escaping the snow and biting winds of Dove Mountain.

But in truth there were positives for all four as they prepared to follow the sun over the next fortnight.

Rory McIlroy’s first round loss to Lowry at least gave the world number one another chance to get used to his new Nike equipment while Pádraig Harrington will be happy that Lowry’s third round defeat to McDowell guaranteed he would hold on to 50th place in the world rankings by the margin of 0.0198 world ranking points and qualify for next week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral.

Lowry had to make it to the semi-finals to deny Harrington that trip but lost to 3 and 2 McDowell in fratricidal third round meeting on Saturday morning.

“I wouldn’t begrudge him,” Harrington said when asked about Lowry’s chance to knock him out of the top 50 with a win over McDowell.

Harrington will nonetheless be happy to travel to Miami next week after putting poorly for the third week in a row.

And while he’s skipping this week’s Honda Classic, where McIlroy defends the title, there will still be plenty of Irish interest with McDowell heading for West Palm Beach on a high following his career-best run in the quarterfinals in Arizona.

Shane Lowry watching Graeme McDowell during the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ie“I am walking out here almost triumphant,” McDowell said after his one up lost to Australia’s Jason Day. “Losing in the quarter-finals feels like a success for me here.

“If I am being brutally honest, I am not 100 percent feeling great about my full swing but I was very happy with by my short game, my putting and my bunker play and how comfortable I felt under pressure. I am very, very upbeat about how I feel about things.”

McDowell also had kind words for Lowry, who will try to join him in this week’s Honda Classic by battling for just four spots from today’s Monday qualifier at Mayacoo Lakes in West Palm Beach

“When we shook hands I told Shane he should be very proud of the way he played this week,” McDowell said. “I think he is going to have a great year.

“I think he has three very impressive qualities to be a top player - driving the ball, short game and guts. Balls, you need balls. All Shane lacks is experience.”

Padraig Harrington remained at 50th in the world, earning his place in the WGC-Cadillac Championship despite his first round defeat to Graeme McDowell. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ieLowry took to the course to follow McDowell’s quarter-final clash with Day before jetting out of Tucson to Florida to practice for today’s Honda Classic qualifier.

“I’ll learn a lot from this week,” said Lowry, who is set to jump six places to 62nd in the world. “I’ve done well and I will get some ranking points and some good exposure over here.

“I’ve known all along that I am confident in my own ability and good enough to compete at the highest level. I think I have shown myself that this week.”

Lowry has until the end of March to break into the top 50 in the world who qualify for the Masters.

Qualifying for the WGC-Cadillac Championship is almost a must but to get there he must win make the field for the Honda Classic by winning one of four spots on offer in today’s qualifier where his rivals include European Tour regulars George Coetzee, Jamie Donaldson, Ross Fisher, Robert Karlsson, Alex Noren and Marcel Siem.

Shane Lowry watches Rory McIlroy hit off the fifth in their first round match at Dove Mountain. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ie“Hopefully I can get into Honda because I feel like my game is good at the moment,” Lowry said.  “I’m going to play in Puerto Rico the week of Doral, unless I make it into the Honda Classic. But there are a lot of rounds of golf to go before we can start thinking about that.”

As for the highlight of his week in Tucson, Lowry added: “It was obviously great beating Rory because my confidence was low coming here and deep down, I wasn’t expecting to do much.

“But some of the golf I have played this week has given me the confidence to keep going now for the rest of the year. The highlight of the week is that I have given myself a lot of confidence. I love it over here.”