Shane Lowry equals course record at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA but admits mind was on fabled 59
Irishman's 10-under par 62 on the National Course levels Henrik Stenson's score from the inaugural tournament in 2006
Shane Lowry equalled the course record at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA with a round that brought to mind fleeting thoughts of both the Irishman’s greatest triumph, as well as – according to the man himself – the fabled figure of 59.
Lowry, 31, scorched the National Course in Round 1 of the 2019 tournament, matching the record total of 62 that Henrik Stenson shot in the third round of the inaugural event in 2006. At 10-under-par, Lowry will start Thursday’s Round 2 with a three-shot lead over the field.
Coincidentally, on the eve of the tournament, Lowry’s dining companion had been Oliver Fisher, the player who had made history last year by becoming the first player to shoot 59 in a European Tour event.
When Lowry was at his hottest on Wednesday – 8-under through 12, following a run of eight birdies in 10 holes – he admitted he let his mind wander.
“It equals the best score I’ve ever shot - I think I’ve had better rounds in tougher conditions, but it’s up there,” Lowry said.
“The one thing I was very happy with was how I didn’t panic at all when I got to 6-, 7-, 8-under. I was 8-under through 11 holes, had a 15-footer on the fourth hole [his 12th] to go 9-under. I was genuinely thinking, ‘If I hole this, and manage to make a couple more before the last two holes, I’ll have a chance at that’.
“I was getting Ollie Fisher [in my mind]. Funny, I had dinner with him last night and we were talking about it. But, look, 10-under is a great score, and I’m very happy with that.”
While his form coolled off slightly – to the extent that sub-60 was beyond him – he still made two more birdies in the six remaining holes, adding up to a tally of 10 over the course of the round.
His card might not have been quite so sparkling, were it not for an escape on the fifth hole – the 14th of Lowry’s round – that was reminiscent of the extraordinary shot that clinched him the 2015 WGC Bridgestone Invitational title.
Back then he won the European Tour’s shot of the month for his sensational save from behind a tree at the 72nd hole, to beat Bubba Watson by two strokes.
That win remains the biggest of his career to date, and the stakes were undoubtedly much lower as he went about his fifth hole adventure in Abu Dhabi.
This time around, he was even further off the beaten track. As is always the case, the National Course is in mint condition this week, yet Lowry managed to crack the beautiful veneer by finding a derelict out-house when he tugged his tee shot a long way left of the fifth fairway.
He was afforded relief, but was left to hit from a patch of sand that took to the extreme the idea of “waste ground”. All around him were old, broken chairs, tables and bins that the maintenance staff must surely have felt were far enough away from the action area as to be hidden from view.
Crucially, Lowry spied a line through to the green. He found the front of it with his approach, and two putted.
“I hit an awful tee shot there and I got very lucky, got a free drop from a building, and managed to hit it on the green and make par,” Lowry said.
“That was big momentum in my round. If you make bogey or double there, which I was looking like doing, walking up after my tee shot, all of a sudden you are hanging on from there.
“But I kept going, tried to make birdies, tried to hit good shots and that’s what I did.”
Shooting the equal lowest score of his career was the perfect start to the new campaign for a player who has been forced into a new outlook on his career.
Lowry lost his PGA Tour card at the end of last season, hence his appearance in Abu Dhabi for the first time since 2014, rather than in the United States.
The enforced change of perspective, as well as the accession of Padraig Harrington to the role of Europe’s captain, has led him to a new goal - a Ryder Cup debut, at Whistling Straights in 2020.
“I’ve never played Ryder Cup, and to play with him as my captain would be unbelievable,” Lowry said.
Updated: January 16, 2019 05:39 PM