Lowry shows his maturity (and length) as G-Mac struggles and Harrington hobbles

Shane Lowry drives on the par-five 16th at Firestone's South Course on Friday. Picture: Getty Images

He's engaged to be married and even has a beard that would get him a place in The Dubliners line-up - or at least onto the bench. In short, Shane Lowry is no longer the 22-year old kid who "rocked up" at Baltray and casually won the Irish Open as an amateur six years ago.

Later that year he found himself among the pros, standing on a range in Akron with the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, wondering what he'd let himself in for. There had been late night tears in his hotel room that week as he got badly burnt by exacting Firestone in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in just his seventh start as a professional.

He'd missed four of his first six cuts but there was no hiding place in Rubber City. There was a no cut for starters.

As Tiger and Pádraig Harrington went down the stretch in that memorable finish — John Paramor put them on the clock and Harrington took eight at the 16th to throw the tournament away — Lowry was licking his wounds after  finishing 77th of 79 on 20 over par.

As he reminded everyone in his TV interview last night, he was 16 over at the same stage in 2009. This time he's tied for second on four under thanks to a 66—his lowest round in a WGC—that came courtesy of some putting magic and a lot more experience than he possessed the first time he played the course.

Asked to compare 2009 Shane to 2015 world No 48 Lowry, he said: "I think at this stage in 2009 I was 16 over par. I am hitting the ball a lot longer and this is one of the courses I first came to when I turned pro and when I come back here six years later, I can see I am a better player now. My mental game, my maturity... it is all better than it was and I can get the ball around the golf course better than I did, so it is nice to be back here and nice to shoot a decent score as well."

A closing bogey, just his second of a six-birdie day, took little gloss off what Lowry felt was a more clinical scoring performance but less impressive ball-striking round than his opening 70, when he closed with two bogeys.

After firing four birdies and one bogey on his way to reaching the turn in 32 on Friday, Lowry closed out his second round in 66 to join Americans Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson on four under par, four shots behind leader Jim Furyk.

The Clara native, who finished tied ninth at this year's US Open, was pleased with his score but thought he actually played better golf on Thursday.

He said: "I feel like I played better yesterday. I just managed to hole a few putts today. That was key. I had a couple of good par saves on the back nine. I rolled a few in from ten, 15, 20 feet. 

"It was nice not to be grinding out there. And just like yesterday, I played as good as I played all year. I drove the ball long and straight. 

"I would say I probably had nine or ten wedges into holes yesterday and did not capitalise at all. So it is nice to go out there and shoot a decent score...

"If you look at my career so far, I tend to play well on tough courses, when we have a high winning score. When pars are good and you pick off a few birdies, I tend to like it. Out here it's all about driving the golf ball. I feel like I'm driving the ball well at the minute. I'm hitting it long and straight, and I just hope I can do that for another two days.”

Furyk carded a second consecutive 66 earlier on Friday to set the clubhouse target on eight under par, and nobody came close to matching his score in the afternoon.

The 45 year old American said: "Obviously I am happy with back to back 66s. Yesterday I felt like I played a really good round. I got the ball in the hole. I missed some greens when I shouldn't have, but I just managed to make a bunch of birdies. 

"Today, I felt a little better about it. I hit the ball more solidly, hit more fairways and had more confidence. I think I had some opportunities early in the round to really get it going and stalled a little bit. 

"Then I was able to birdie 17, 18 and two to kind of jump start the round and get to three under pretty quickly. So overall, I am pleased with it. I felt like I was moving in the right direction today. Hopefully, I'll continue to gain more confidence in my swing."

Lowry and Watson both matched Furyk's 66 with six birdies and two bogeys, with Johnson carding a 67 which featured four birdies and a bogey in the last six holes.

Meanwhile Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and first round leader Danny Lee are all on three under, five shots behind Furyk.

After shooting 69 to hold a share of fifth place, World Number Nine Stenson heaped praise on Furyk.

"My playing partner was Furyk today, and yesterday he managed his game very well around here," said Stenson. "Even though it is normally a long golf course, and he is not the longest hitter, he hits a lot of fairways, and he is putting beautifully, and the short game is sharp as always. He has definitely taken advantage of those conditions. 

"I feel like it suits me as well. If you can hit some high towering iron shots, which I can do at times, then you can hold those firm greens. I am looking forward to the rest of the week."

McDowell followed his opening round of 66 with a battling one over par 7 and clearly needs to rediscover his best form to make sure he qualifies for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"It was an up-and-down day," McDOwell said. "The first nine holes, which was the back nine, I could have shot anything there, anything from 37 to about 42.

"But I managed to hang in there and shoot a really great, grinding level par on the back nine, my first nine holes. And then my second nine, the front nine, I started to hit it a little better and give myself some chances and kind of made a couple silly mistakes.

"So that's golf. I'd have taken 71, I think, six or seven holes into the round, and I’m happy enough that I'm hanging around for the weekend, which it's always nice to be thereabouts.”

On his potential schedule, he said: "Plan A is the FedEx Cup Play-Offs and B is no Play-Offs and play more back in Europe, and maybe a bit of the Fall Series to start the ‘15/’16 PGA Tour season but I would rather it be Plan A."

Pádraig Harrington is four over after a second successive 72 and more concerned about his injured knee and whether or not he will be able to play in next week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

The Dubliner injured his knee two weeks ago playing tennis with his children, as Bernie McGuire reported for The Irish Examiner.

Harrington is clearly in discomfort walking with his right leg stiff and was heading straight for a lengthy session with the on-site physio staff following his second successive score of 72 for a four over par tally.

“I am really struggling and don’t know if I can make it through the next two rounds so we’ll see, we’ll see,” he said.

“I am okay swinging the club but then late in my round today I definitely wasn’t loading my swing the right way and the knee was affecting me.

“So I am not 100% sure and it will depend on how I feeling in the morning but then in the bigger picture I am also concerned about next week’s PGA Championship.”

Without the benefit of an MRI, Harrington’s been informed he has sustained cartilage damage and while the knee is structurally sound it is a scenario where he had to keep icing the knee, and continuing to take prescribed anti-inflammatories.

“Ideally, I should be taking three weeks rest but I can’t do that this time of the year so I am staring at possibly an injection and plenty of rehab,” he added.

“I was playing tennis with my children and not doing anything foolish like jumping the net, and it happened two weeks ago but then I irritated it a week ago so I came here with the knee a little unstable."

Later, Lowry was interviewed by Tim Barter for Sky Sports and following his brother Alan's great win in Mullingar on Monday, there was a mention of the Mullingar Electrical Scratch Trophy.