Shane Lowry admits that playing nine events in 11 weeks might have been a mistake but he still did well to come back from a horror start to shoot a two under 70 in the opening round of the Turkish Airlines Open.
The 27-year old Offaly man is sitting in the most uncomfortable seat in golf — 51st in the world — with the qualifying cut off for the Top-50 who get into the Masters by December 31 rapidly approaching.
The pressure of making the leap is clearly not helping but Lowry believes that “feeling flat” rather than world ranking anxiety caused him to bogey three of his first four holes and find himself nine shots behind playing partner Miguel Angel Jiménez after just eight holes.
“It was a real roller coaster,” Lowry confessed with a grin after playing his last 10 holes in five under to end the day “just” seven shots adrift of a flawless Jiménez, who shot a nine under 63 to lead by one from Ian Poulter (64).
After starting on the 10th, the Clara man bogeyed the opening hole from just short of the green and dropped another shot at the 11th after a hooked tee shot into the trees forced him to chip out backwards to the fairway.
He did well to save par after another hook into the trees at the 12th but then bogeyed the par-five 13th and followed a two from nine feet at the short 14th with another bogey at the 17th.
That turned out to be the hole that turned things around for Lowry, who lost a ball up a tree but managed to get up and down for a five.
From there he was almost flawless, holing for birdie at the 18th for the first of five birdies in a row.
“I was fairly headless around that time and thinking it might be a long week,” Lowry said after his tree shot. “But I knew I had the [par-fives at the] 18th, first and the fourth and I played those well and had two other birdies in between as well.
“It was just a strange start and it’s kind of the way my golf has been for the last couple of weeks. I felt a bit flat out there at the start. But I fought back well and didn’t lie down. Two under is pretty respectable return after that.”
As for the negative effects of trying to break into the world’s Top 50, assuring himself of an early Masters invitation, Lowry did not feel that was to blame for another shaky start to an event.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I had a perfect yardage ob the first and for some reason — lack of concentration maybe — I didn't hit it hard enough and left it a yard short of the green and didn't get it up and down and it was a comedy of errors from there.
“After my third hole — I hit two drives left on 11 and 12 — I drove the ball beautifully and that's what you have to do around here. I was giving myself some decent chances after that.
“I made a couple of silly mistakes and yes, I had plenty of words with myself. Coming off 18 I said to Dermot, we're here now, might as well try and do my best.
“I was nine behind Miguel after eight or something like that. I holed that putt from off the 18th and that got me going. I did show a lot of character. Last Thursday in the HSBC I got off to a similar start — four over after eight and I was out of the tournament then. I ended up shooting 6 over.
“Today at least I fought back well when I could easily have played myself out of the tournament. I am right back in it — obviously I am seven behind — but if I hit the driver as well as I did most of the day today, I will be okay over the weekend.”
Lowry is playing his ninth event in an 11-week stretch that began at the Omega European Masters in September and knows he needs to address his scheduling for 2015.
“I was thinking to myself, I am feeling a bit flat,” Lowry said after his bad start to a round that left him tied for 34th. “I could have easily not come here and tried to play well next week. It has been a long run. It's been a long season and I've played too much when I didn't have to this year.
“I played two small events and at least I will learn from next year and try and get my schedule a little bit better. I mean, you really want to be fresh for these four events, you can do anything — win the Race to Dubai.”
The change in the Race to Dubai points system for the Final Series came as a surprise to Lowry, who has fallen to 15th in the standings and could miss out on a minimum €100,000 payout from the bonus pool so volatile has the system become.
“If you are 40th in the Race to Dubai it is obviously a good chance to move up but if you have had a good year, like myself, I have made decent cheques the last two weeks and moved backwards. But that's what they’ve done.
“I've never played the FedEx Cup but I'd say that's similar. At least the change gives someone a chance going into the final four to win the Race to Dubai.”
Marcel Siem and Sergio Garcia can pip runaway leader Rory McIlroy to the Harry Vardon Trophy if they win the last two events of the season but that looks like a very long shot now.
Garcia shot a three over 75 that left him tied for 64th alongside Darren Clarke, who had 33 putts in his three over effort.
As for Siem, the German is tied 34th with Lowry after a 70.
Jiménez, who is regarded as the rank outsider to beat Clarke to the 2016 Ryder Cup captaincy because he struggles to communicate in English, put himself in contention to break his own record as the European Tour’s oldest winner.
The 50 year old holed his approach to the 10th, his opening hole, for an eagle two and added seven birdies at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Antalya.
That left him one stroke ahead of Ryder Cup star Poulter, who continued his fine form from last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions with a sparkling round of 64.
The highlight of Poulter’s day was an eagle three at the 13th hole, and the Englishman added seven birdies to sign for his lowest round on The European Tour this season.
His compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge and Australian Wade Ormsby – whose back nine featured eight birdies and a bogey – are all in a share of third place on seven under.
“It's special, because I’ve been struggling a little bit over the last few months, so when you shoot nine under par, you feel really good,” Jiménez said. “I started to roll the ball much better on the greens today, and after that my confidence improved a lot.
“I like this golf course. You have some long holes, you have some short holes, so you have a very nice mix. I feel comfortable on this golf course – it feels very, very Mediterranean, similar to Málaga. It’s the same kind of trees and the same kind of the soil there.”
Poulter credited his round to playing the five par-fives in six under and going back to the putter he used in last year’s Open at Muirfield.
“I’m right back where I want to be,” Poulter said. “Within a space of a couple of weeks, I feel really good about myself again. I don’t have any aches or pains, which is really nice, and I’m swinging it as well as I have for a long time.
“I feel physically strong again, and that means I can practice better. And when I practice and start holing some putts, then I’m going to be full of confidence like I am right now.
“The second round last week was the best I’ve played this year, but I’d say that might just top it. It was very good golf today.”
Michael Hoey is joint last after a 10 over 82 and confessed that he had “no energy” after suffering a bout of food poisoning in his recent trip to China.