Shane Lowry remained on course to break into the world’s Top 50 as as Graeme McDowell insisted his season will not come to a premature end despite nursing a badly bruised right hand in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
Little more than three years after he cried bitter tears during his WGC debut in Akron, Lowry added a 68 to his opening 66 to go into the weekend tied for fourth place on 10 under, six strokes behind leader Louis Oosthuizen.
The world No 57 can make the Top-50 with a top-five finish at Mission Hills, where he will take his earnings for the season beyond the €1 million mark for the first time.
But while there was initial concern that McDowell’s 2012 campaign could be over after he badly bruised his right hand by catching it in his hotel room door before struggling to a second round 75, the Ulsterman indicated later that he should be “good to go” in the Australian Masters in two weeks’ time.
McDowell texted the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, a programme he regularly co-presents when he is at home in Orlando, to say that he is “about 50-50” to play over the weekend in China having received treatment on his hand before and after his second round.
The Co Antrim man winced in a pain a few times but still blasted at least one 300-yard drive despite playing with tape on his injured right hand.
The 33-year old added that he was “feeling better already” and while he may pull out of the last two rounds in China, where he is 18 shots off the pace in joint 31st, he is determined to fulfill his commitment to play in the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath from November 12-15.
The 2010 US Open champion is one of the event’s headline stars having confirmed his participation in August alongside defending champion Ian Poulter and home hero Adam Scott.
McDowell last played in Australia seven years ago and insisted in August that he has been “desperate to get back down there ever since!”
The Rathmore man’s end of season form has been poor after a summer of close calls in the majors, where he played in the last group on the final day in the US Open and the Open but finished joint second and joint fifth respectively.
Winless since 2010, despite a rash of close calls, McDowell has slipped from a career high of fourth in the world to 22nd this week.
He is scheduled to head from Melbourne to Dubai for the European Tour’s season ending event before brining 2012 to a close with an appearance in the Tiger Woods’ Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in California, scene of his most recent tournament victory.
“They’ve confirmed since that it’s not broken, it’s just bruised,” his manager told news agencies in China. “He did it this morning before he left the hotel room, literally when he was on his way down here so we’re going to see what it’s like in the morning.”
Ridge added: “He’s not going to want to miss any of them (his last events). He’s looking forward to going to Australia, he hasn’t played there for a long time.
“He’s certainly not winding down. He won’t want to miss the last two rounds here either, let’s be honest. Hopefully he’s OK but knowing him he’d have to be pretty bad not to play.”
As for Lowry, the 25-year old does not want the season to end having hit a purple patch of form that has left him on the cusp of making the world’s Top 50 by Christmas and guaranteeing him a Master debut at Augusta next April.
Believing he now belongs at the game’s top table, Lowry was disappointed to pick up just one shot coming home having covered the back nine at the Olazabal Course in three under.
“I feel like this has been coming a while now to be honest,” said Lowry, who admitted he has been trying not to think of where he has gone in the game recently or the great names he is competing against in China.
“Obviously it’s great to be in the position I’m in and the results I’ve had over the last few weeks have been great, but I just have to keep pushing on, and as I say, make hay when the sun shines.
“As I said yesterday, I feel as though I belong here, so there’s no reason why I can’t go out on the weekend and compete.”
While the Offaly man finished with a birdie at the ninth, he failed to birdie the par-five third and followed a birdie at the short third with a bogey at the next before failing to birdie the par-five sixth.
“I played lovely again today,” he said. “A bit disappointed the way I scored on the front nine holes there, my back nine. I didn’t birdie two easy par 5s, and made a bad bogey on the 6.
“Other than that, I played lovely all day and gave myself a lot of chances and to be honest, I felt like four-under was probably the worst score I could have shot.
“[I’m trying to] stay patient, keep doing what I’m doing and one shot at a time; all the clichés and hopefully the birdies will come. I feel I got a nice reward, I holed a nice 20-footer on the last, so patience paid off today.”
Thoroughly enjoying his run a run of hot form that began late in the season, culminating with his first professional win in the Portugal Masters, he said: “What’s not to enjoy? I’m playing a World Golf Championships and I’m up there in the top five going into the weekend, so, yeah, looking forward to it.”
Leader Oosthuizen shot a nine under 63 to lead by five shots on 16 under par from Ernie Els (63) and Scott (68) with Lowry tied for fourth on 10 under with Jason Dufner (66).
Phil Mickelson finished with a double bogey six for a 69 that left him joint with with Dustin Johnson on nine under.
Graeme McDowell tweeted later, revealing that the accident took place on Thursday night: “Busted up my hand a bit last night.. Had an argument with a door. Nothing broken. Just bruised and swollen. I should be okay for 2moro #HSBC”