Lowry and Knox will never forget their first victories as Irish Open heads to Lahinch

Shane Lowry

Ireland’s Shane Lowry claimed the Irish Open as an amateur 10 years ago, beating Robert Rock in a play-off at Baltray – tournament host Paul McGinley is setting Lahinch up to mimick Open Championship venue Royal Portrush as far as possible. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

SHANE Lowry will make his much-anticipated homecoming this week at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, at Lahinch Golf Club – 10 years on from his famous victory as an amateur which kick-started his professional career.

The popular Offaly player won his national open at Baltray in 2009 when he sank the winning putt on the third extra play-off hole to claim the title in dramatic fashion over Robert Rock, and now returns to the famous Wild Atlantic Way coast of Ireland with form once again on his side.

Earlier this season, the 32-year-old claimed his first European Tour title in three and a half years in the maiden Rolex Series event of 2019, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, and more recently finished tied eighth at the USPGA Championship in May.

Lowry is looking forward to Lahinch and said: “I don’t know if it will top 2009. I don’t want to even start thinking about winning the Irish Open again. I just kind of try not to think about it because I can then play the Irish Open every year and do my best.

“I’m currently only 32 now. Hopefully I’ve got 15 or 20 Irish Opens in me and hopefully, I’ll have a few chances along the years.

“And hopefully one of them is this week. If I do get a chance, I’ll be giving my best to take up all hands and see from there.

“I think I look at it and I accept that you’re going to get a few unfortunate breaks and that’s links golf and that’s the way it kind of is and should be. That’s the beauty of it… it’s not straightforward.

“There’s probably five or 10 ways to play the shots and you have to pick the right one and then go about it. You just hit your first tee shot and walk after it and hit the next one and keep going and try to shoot good scores.

“No matter what I shoot today, I’ve got to shoot a score tomorrow. That’s kind of the way I’ve been gone about my business this year.

“I got down there late last night, drove by the course there yesterday, and I think it looks great. I was down there a month ago, and it looks like a different golf course, the shape it’s in is incredible.”

Meanwhile, defending champion Russell Knox hopes his return to the Emerald Isle in the second Rolex Series event of the season – this time on the famous County Clare links – can give him a first win of 2019.

The Scot added his name to the illustrious list of champions at Ballyliffin in thrilling fashion 12 months ago, holing a 45-foot birdie putt to force a play-off before sinking another similar-length effort on the first extra hole to beat New Zealand’s Ryan Fox.

Knox said of his victory in 2018: “It was a crazy ending to the tournament that fortunately I was on the good end of.

“To hole a putt on the last hole to eventually make the play-off is obviously an Irish Open I’ll never forget – and to somehow walk it again is obviously a dream come true.

“To hole a putt in any tournament to win, I’ll just never forget the whole atmosphere, the crowd, everything, the cheers when the putts went in, it’s kind of a pinch-yourself moment.

“Lahinch is a great track. It’s very lengthy, very similar to some of the courses I grew up playing in the north of Scotland.

“I think every aspect of my game feels very good. And I’ve been driving well. I think recently I’ve been putting great for the last month or two.

“There’s been no really glaring weakness. Just got to try to put it all together for four days.”

Tournament host Paul McGinley is overseeing this week’s event and has attempted to give the players the ideal preparation for the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush in two weeks.

The four-time European Tour winner, and Ryder Cup-winning captain, is happy with how those plans have been executed so far and is also thrilled with the impressive ticket sales, with only limited tickets remaining for Saturday and Sunday.

McGinley said: “I’m a great believer in preparation and with The Open Championship in Northern Ireland in Portrush in a couple of weeks’ time, straightaway I always wanted to have a similar set-up here.”

“Obviously we’re not copying exactly everything because of the different designs of the holes. But we have information on the greens speeds and we have information on the rough heights, the fairway widths, the run-off areas.

“The players who come here will feel really well prepared to win a Major championship in a few weeks’ time. That’s the plan.

“We’re well on our way to having sell-out crowds for the weekend which is unbelievable really considering The Open is also going to be on here in a few weeks’ time in this country of ours.

“We can sell out, hopefully, two golf tournaments in the space of three weeks.”

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