It’s arguably the worst world ranking in the world — 51st and so close to a Masters debut you can almost smell the pines and see the blooming azaleas six months ahead of time.
And yet Shane Lowry says he’s relaxed about being in the Augusta National ante room for the second time in his career with just three events to make a move into the world’s Top 50 by December 31 that would guarantee him one of those precious invitations.
Of course, Lowry can still qualify for the Masters by making the world’s Top 50 before the cut off date early next year but as he prepares to round off his best ever European Tour season in this week’s $7m Turkish Airlines Open and next week’s DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, he insists he’s not as frazzled by the pressure to make that breakthrough this time around.
“I think I am more mature now than I was before when I was in this position and I am just like, right, I need to play well,” the 27-year old Offaly man said at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club. “Let’s just do it. That’s the way I feel about it.”
In 2012, Lowry was 56th in the world with a handful of events to go when he fell ill and missed the season ending event in Dubai, ending the year at No 52.
Like a man struggling to make cuts, the nearer he gets to the Top 50, the harder it seems to be for him to get over the line.
Having reached 53rd following his fifth Top-10 finish of the season in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he was 33rd in Portugal, eliminated at the group stage of the Volvo World Match Play and come tied 16th and 34th in his last two starts.
To make the Top 50 this week and guarantee himself a Masters debut irrespective of his results in Dubai or the Nedbank Golf Challenge (he’s likely to qualify for the event and will play if he does), he will almost certainly need a Top-6 finish.
“I hit the ball lovely out there so if I can just get it right between the ears I will be fine,” he said. “If I keep playing like I did today over the next few weeks, I will be grand.”
Still, there’s that green-jacketed elephant in the room and he’s hard to ignore, even if a move into the Top 50 looks inevitable for a player who is 15th in the Race to Dubai thanks to top drawer performances in events such as the BMW PGA at Wentworth and The Open, where he was second and ninth respectively behind his old amateur sparring partner Rory McIlroy.
“Obviously it would be ideal to get it out of the way,” Lowry said of the Masters shadow. “It is not about moving up two spots to 49th. That’s not what I am after. It is about moving up and up. I want to keep going as far as I can in the world rankings.
“Being top 30 in the world would be a decent goal for me so that’s what I’m looking at.
“Obviously, you need to focus on one shot at a time — the same old stupid golf clichés. One shot at a time, stay patient and it will look after itself.”
It takes some players a while to realise how good they really are but while Lowry is adamant that he’s always known his career trajectory was ascendant given his amateur pedigree, he’s had a few moments of doubt at the elite level.
Having won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur and backed it up with a win in Portugal back in 2012, he knows a third win is all he needs to make that move into the game’s a formality.
“There have been times in the best when I have, not doubted myself, but not backed myself to do well in big tournaments and be happy with finishing wherever and making cuts,” he admitted.
“At the end of the day I am out here trying to win tournaments and compete and I feel like I am competing a lot of weeks I play and I am contending and giving myself chances to do well and win tournaments.
“I know I haven’t won in a couple of years but I have given myself a good few chances this year. I have always known I am a good player. I know I belong in the world’s top 50 and I know I belong playing in the major tournaments and I just need to get there now and put my head down for the next couple of weeks.
“There has been no particular moment when I’ve suddenly realised I can compete at the top level. It has been like that my whole career — whether it was getting on the Irish team or winning tournaments as an amateur or just progressing on to the GB&I team and winning European Championships with Ireland. It is just a progression and I feel like this is the next stage of that.”
The Montgomerie Maxx Royal should produce a quality winner this week and while the rough is up, the firm greens will reward a good ball-striker like Lowry.
“If you play well, you will do well this week,” said Lowry, who is 33-1.
That looks like a good bet for player who came back from a poor start to shoot 12 under at the weekend last year.
Whatever about the short term, betting on the Clara man in the long run, looks like a sure thing.