Lowry sees "light at the end of the tunnel"
 Shane Lowry. Photo: INPHO

Shane Lowry. Photo: INPHO

Shane Lowry can’t help but look ahead and see light at the end of the tunnel as he seeks his first win for over three years in the Turkish Airlines Open this week.

While Paul Dunne is happy to wait and see what surprises the game brings him at the Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort and Pádraig Harrington wonders if his recent erratic putting will improve enough to help him clinch an overdue win, Lowry dares to dream big.

With his fortunes on an upward curve since The Open and buoyed by his runner-up finish to Sergio Garcia in the Andalucía Valderrama Masters two weeks ago, he tees it up with his confidence on the rise.

“The goal is still the same, next March to try and be in the top-50 in the world,” said Lowry, who is 71st right now and 42nd in the Race to Dubai knowing that the top 30 on the final money list will qualify for The Open at Royal Portrush.

“I like these next three weeks and I feel I can move a further move up the standings as my golf is good and my confidence is high. I just need to go out there and do the business.”

While the loss of his full PGA Tour card has left him unsure about his early 2019 schedule— he may play in Abu Dhabi and Dubai before looking at what events he could play in the US — ticking Portrush off his wish list is one goal he knows is within reach.

"I did that last year," he said. "I had a good week to make sure I was in the top-30 and that’s a big thing when you finish the year, and you know you are in The Open.”

While he’s loathe to say his game is close, he senses big things could be just around the corner after clinching his first top-10 for ten months in Portugal and then finishing second at Valderrama.

“Sometimes as you are going through the year, you feel like you are not going to shoot good scores,” said Lowry, who plays next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and then in Dubai before heading to Australia with Dunne to play the World Cup.

“You can get down on yourself and the game can get down on you, it just shows me that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“When you go play a golf course like that [Valderrama] and you shoot eight-under for three rounds, it shows you you’re playing some good golf.”

Lowry co-led going into the final round here last year, playing in the final group with Harrington.

A closing 72 saw him slip to eighth behind Justin Rose as the Harrington finished fourth. But his sharp iron play and sold putting in recent weeks has given him reasons to be cheerful.

“I keep coming out and boring [people] saying my golf is good, this that and the other, and people are looking at me saying you must be mad thinking your golf is good. I feel like it has been alright. I feel like I am hitting the ball solid, there’s not a destructive shot in there and when it comes down to it if I hole a few putts  I normally do alright.”

After hitting the flagstick twice at Valderrama, he’s clearly happy with that department of his game.

“My iron play is nice,” Lowry said. “It is good at the minute. Actually I put a new set of irons in the bag only the week of Portugal, Srixon have a new iron out, I just put them straight in the bag, I didn’t even test them. I liked the look of them, need to start aiming away from flags. My game feels alright and has done for a couple of months.”

Iron play was a struggle all summer for Dunne, who has fallen from 68th in the world after his runner-up finish in the Spanish Open in April to 105th this week.

“I played my best golf ever, I think, April-May time,” Dunne said of his hot streak back in the Spring and his hopes of turning things around before he puts his clubs away after next month's Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek.

”t was as consistently as I played for a stretch, played really solid for six weeks in a row which I had never done before which was nice. Also I had a six week competitive stretch as bad as I have had. A few good weeks here and it turns out to be a great year.”

As for the Race to Dubai and the world rankings, he knows that positive moves are a result of good play.

“I don’t really look at rankings,” he said. “A win obviously, it doesn’t have to be now, but in the next while to box off another couple of years. Once I can do that the rankings and the rest (work themselves out). These tournaments are funny, the difference between second and third and fourth is so big. If I have a good week and play the last nine holes really well on Sunday, head into the next week feeling well.”

As for his problems with his game, he said: “I was hitting the ball really poorly, that was it. I lost my iron play, which probably was the big difference. I lost driving a bit. I normally manage fine when I do that. I lost the strike in my irons a bit and that was a strength and I started to struggle with that. I wasn’t driving it horrifically. It was adequate enough to play good golf.

“The irons, I went from gaining strokes to losing strokes. And the putter is still fine. But when you stop giving yourself those five or six chances from 200 yards…..it has started to get a bit better. Showed signs of playing better in Portugal and British Masters.”

Dunne will be away for the next seven weeks as he mixes this four-week stretch with a two-week holiday before heading to Leopard Creek.  

As for Harrington, he’s optimistic about his game at a venue where he played well last year but ultimately lost out down the stretch to Rose.

“I think one of the big keys for all professional golfers is you're always trying to figure out why you got into contention, why you did well,” Harrington said after a nine-hole practice round with Lowry on Tuesday.

“And it's when you come back, you start realising the difficult breaks you got here, there or everywhere.  Certainly I got a few good breaks last year.  

“Shane was there to remind me of them today.  You chipped and putted from there, you did that.  You chipped in there.  It's always nice to remember a good round, as I said, and it was nice to be in contention.  It was a nice place.  It was a nice place to be.”

His form has been mixed since he finished second in the Czech Masters and fifth in the KLM Open with a missed cut in Portugal, a share of seventh in the Alfred Dunhill Links followed by a 22nd place finish in the British Masters and a share of 66th in Valderrama.

Ranked 89th in the Race to Dubai, he said: “Got to push on to try to get into The Race to Dubai.  Yeah, I'm quietly very happy about my game and where it's going.  

“I'm sure there's some weaknesses there all right, but I'm focusing on the right stuff at the moment that gets the job done.  You know, putting can be a little bit erratic at times.  I certainly have had some good weeks and then some very average weeks, which have taken me out of contention.

“But I'm working away on that and then the tee to green stuff seems to be good, and the short game seems to be as good as ever.”

As Dunne, Lowry and Harrington seek gold in Turkey, Seamus Power and Graeme McDowell will be hoping to hit the jackpot in the PGA Tour’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, 21st ranked Michael Hoey opened with a three over 75 in the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final and lies nine strokes behind Spain's Adri Arnaus and Swede Niclas Lemke.

The leaders shot six under 66s in an event that will decide the top 15 in the final Road to Ras Al Khaimah Rankings who will be awarded European Tour cards for 2019.