Darren Clarke will be lighting candles to any deity that will listen in the hope that Shane Lowry plays well enough to join Rory McIlroy in his Ryder Cup team in September.
Picking a rookie is almost a Ryder Cup no-no but Lowry is riding such a wave of confidence right now that he looks odds on to play his way onto the plane to Minnesota in September, one way or the other.
The Clara man tied for 13th in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Monday thanks to a miraculous 73 in a semi-hurricane. And thanks to a closing birdie at TPC Scottsdale for a one under 70 last night, he’s seven under and just three shots behind leader James Hahn (65) heading into the weekend in the weather-delayed Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Just as McIlroy did in Dubai earlier in the day — the Holywood star birdied four of his last six holes to move from outside the cut line to within five of the lead, Lowry was not at his very best as “a few tired” late afternoon swings cost him a little momentum.
He had played the front nine well, holing a coupe of big putts along the way, to turn in two under. While he had bogeyed the fourth when putting through his shadow and got unlucky to overshoot the 10th by a few inches, some quality iron shots into firm greens showed he’s a man who means business.
He converted just two of the chances he created over the last five holes — a 159-yard approach to 23 feet at the 14th and a 173-yard special to a yard or so at the last, having managed to throw in a double bogey six from nowhere a the driveable 17th.
A poor tee shot into a fairwway trap led to an even poorer second that ended up in the lake behind the green. But Lowry was smiling after his closing birdie and looking forward to a big weekend and a crack at his second PGA Tour title in the space of six months.
“I’m pretty happy birdieing the last,” Lowry confessed. “I think I would have been fairly annoyed sitting down for my dinner this evening having only shot level par today. I was a little bit sloppy coming in but I have got to put that behind me now and kick on for the weekend.”
Lowry had had to dig deep to save pars at the 15th and 16th after what he described as lazy swings. At the par-five 15th he played one of his trademark, lazy cut-up wedges to a foot and a half having been forced to lay up after a poor driver.
At the stadium, par-three 16th, the crowd gave him stick for pulling his tee shot into the trap. He grinned at the razz but he made a great par, splashing out to 10 feet before rolling in the putt.
“I made a couple of lazy swings but thankfully it was a decent one on the last,” he said.
Assessing his position, Lowry said: “The golf course is playing quite tough. It’s quite firm. So if they tuck the pins they are hard to get to. I am looking foward to the weeknd and think if I can go out and shoot a decent round — a couple under or something inthe 60s, I will give myself a right chance for the weekend.”
There is unlikely to be a weekend for Paul Dunne unless Brendan de Jonge and Patrick Rodgers drop three shots each in the combined three hiles they have left to complete this morning.
The cut will fall at level par and Dunne is one over after adding a 71 to a 72 with his putter — so warm in San Diego — cooling down considerably in the chill early morning desert air and showing little signs of a warm up in the afternoon.
As for Padraig Harrington, the scores say the Dubliner missed the cut comfortably after rounds of 74 and 72 but there was back nine rally in the afternoon — three birdies got him back to two over — before he closed with a three putt bogey at the 17th and another following a drive into water at the last.
Unexpected trick shot. pic.twitter.com/LKt1uKHMht— Padraig Harrington (@padraig_h) January 26, 2016
I sorry there's no magic secret to the hurley in the video,my kids were just playing with it before I took the video.— Padraig Harrington (@padraig_h) January 27, 2016
I will say if you've ever played hurling a ground pull on the ball is very similar to a golf swing just with a different grip.— Padraig Harrington (@padraig_h) January 27, 2016
As for McIlroy, he’s clearly not comfortable on firm and fast courses and it took a remarkable finish — he birdied the 13th and the last three — to avoid a first missed cut since last year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“I struggled in the wind a little bit and didn’t get off to the best of starts again,” said McIlroy, who had 32 putts. “I bounced back well and persevered and got something out of the round in the end.
"It never looked like I was going to shoot better than over par, but to shoot par is not bad, and I just need to make sure I get off to a fast start tomorrow. But I’ve come back from bigger deficits than this, and this is one of my favourite places.
"If I can get off to a faster start tomorrow, you never know. I’ll get better conditions, as well, being out a little earlier. The greens and the course in general got very firm and very fast out there, so hopefully I can get out in the morning and post a good score.”
Former champion Rafa Cabrera-Bello called it one of the best putting rounds of his life after storming to the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage with a second consecutive five under par 67.
The Spaniard, who won here at Emirates Golf Club in 2012, rolled in his 26th and final putt of the day to birdie the 18th hole and establish a one-shot lead over three-time winner Ernie Els, South African Trevor Fisher Jnr and Englishman Danny Willett.
Els is the only player to win three Desert Classic titles (in 1994, 2002 and 2005), and he did his chances of adding a fourth no harm with a 67 to reach nine under, continuing his resurgence following his recent, well-documented putting woes. The highlight was a superb eagle at the par five 18th.
Els said: “I love this golf course. I’ve played it since '93 so I know it well. I've been feeling better and better since the first week of the season, when it was pretty bad. Things have been coming along a little bit, slowly. But mainly the putter – I’m falling in love on the greens again.
"It’s a complete turnaround from a couple weeks ago when I was dreading to get on the greens. I’m actually enjoying it on the greens - the surfaces are just unbelievable and I’ve got a lot more confidence in the stroke and the set-up.”
He’s not enjoying the thought of seeing McIlroy charge over the weekend but he’s expecting the world No 2 to challenge.
Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Michael Hoey and Paul McGinley won’t be challenging, having missed the halfway cut.
Clarke (71-73) missed by one with McDowell, surprisingly, a shot further back after a 76. Hoey shot a 71 but the damage was done by a 78 on Thursday while McGinley, playing just his fourth tournament since last October, finished on five over after rounds of 74 and 75.
Round 2 scores: (69 players including two amateurs made the cut at 143 (-1)
134 R Cabrera-Bello (Esp) 67 67,
135 D Willett(Eng) 70 65, E Els (RSA) 68 67, T Fisher Jnr (RSA) 67 68,
136 J Luiten (Ned) 69 67, A Sullivan (Eng) 70 66, T Olesen (Den) 72 64, C Wood(Eng) 68 68,
137 H Stenson (Swe) 69 68, A Quiros(Esp) 68 69, B Rumford (Aus) 67 70,
138 B An (Kor) 71 67, J Carlsson (Swe) 71 67, H Porteous (RSA) 72 66, G Stal(Fra) 70 68, G Storm(Eng) 68 70, R Bland (Eng) 69 69,
139 N Holman(Aus) 69 70, S Hend (Aus) 71 68, J Morrison(Eng) 69 70, B Wiesberger(Aut) 68 71, B Dechambeau (am) (USA) 70 69,
140 W Ormsby (Aus) 71 69, S Jamieson(Sco) 69 71, R McIlroy(Nir) 68 72, M Ilonen(Fin) 70 70, S Kjeldsen (Den) 70 70, P Hanson (Swe) 67 73, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 70, T Hatton (Eng) 70 70, O Fisher(Eng) 69 71, L Slattery (Eng) 73 67, B Dredge (Wal) 70 70, A Cañizares(Esp) 71 69, A Levy (Fra) 71 69, B Evans(Eng) 69 71,
141 J Campillo (Esp) 72 69, G Havret(Fra) 71 70, D Lipsky (USA) 68 73, R Fisher (Eng) 70 71, L Bjerregaard(Den) 72 69, P Larrazábal (Esp) 72 69, R Paratore (Ita) 70 71, A Noren(Swe) 66 75, R Kakko(Fin) 72 69, D Howell (Eng) 71 70, M Manassero (Ita) 69 72, J Allan (am) (Eng) 69 72,
142 R Jacquelin (Fra) 69 73, D Foos (Ger) 73 69, G Coetzee (RSA) 72 70, T Fleetwood(Eng) 71 71, A Johnston (Eng) 73 69, B Hebert(Fra) 69 73, D Drysdale (Sco) 72 70,
143 O Wilson (Eng) 74 69, C Lee (Sco) 72 71, S Webster (Eng) 70 73, S Dyson(Eng) 68 75, J Hansen(Den) 72 71, R Rock (Eng) 72 71, E Pepperell (Eng) 70 73, D Horsey (Eng) 70 73, E España (Fra) 72 71, G Bourdy (Fra) 72 71, P Edberg (Swe) 71 72, M Fitzpatrick(Eng) 73 70, A Wu (Chn) 70 73, N Colsaerts(Bel) 73 70,
144 M Baldwin (Eng) 71 73, J Quesne(Fra) 69 75, L Weber (Fra) 72 72, R Sterne(RSA) 73 71, M Madsen(Den) 70 74, M Kieffer (Ger) 72 72, N Fasth (Swe) 73 71, T Lawrence (RSA) 71 73, D Clarke (Nir) 71 73, D Brooks (Eng) 69 75, F Zanotti (Par) 71 73, T Jaidee (Tha) 70 74,
145 L Westwood (Eng) 75 70, S Gros (Fra) 76 69, M Korhonen (Fin) 72 73, A Wall (Eng) 75 70, G McDowell(Nir) 69 76, B Stone (RSA) 74 71, S Gallacher (Sco) 70 75, J Donaldson (Wal) 74 71, P Lawrie (Sco) 73 72, P Meesawat(Tha) 74 71,
146 E Molinari(Ita) 72 74, M Lorenzo-Vera(Fra) 74 72, T Pieters(Bel) 76 70, J Lagergren (Swe) 75 71, M Kaymer (Ger) 71 75, R Gouveia (Por) 71 75, T Immelman(RSA) 71 75, A Dodt (Aus) 80 66, R Dinwiddie(Eng) 73 73, M Carlsson(Swe) 73 73, F Aguilar (Chi) 72 74,
147 L Corfield(Eng) 75 72, K Broberg (Swe) 73 74, L Oosthuizen(RSA) 73 74, E De La Riva(Esp) 75 72, C Paisley(Eng) 72 75, M Warren (Sco) 73 74, D Fichardt (RSA) 73 74,
148 Z Scotland(Eng) 74 74, M Jiménez (Esp) 74 74, R Wattel(Fra) 77 71, P Doherty (Sco) 75 73, M Ford (Eng) 74 74, M Siem(Ger) 73 75, G Canizares (Esp) 77 71,
149 P McGinley (Irl) 74 75, M Hoey(Nir) 78 71, M Fraser (Aus) 77 72, N Elvira(Esp) 72 77, F Serghini(Mar) 81 68,
150 H Otto (RSA) 76 74,
151 R Ramsay(Sco) 74 77, R Karlberg(Swe) 74 77, J Singh (Ind) 76 75,
153 B Virto Astudillo (Esp) 76 77, G Green(Mas) 76 77,
155 R Karlsson (Swe) 75 80,
156 J Jeong (Kor) 80 76,
160 A Joudar (Mar) 81 79,
RET S Khan (Eng) 73 RT, P Uihlein(USA) RT0,