By Ronan MacNamara
Graeme McDowell at the RBC Heritage. Photo by Golffile
One week on from basking in the beauty of the azaleas and dogwood at Augusta National where we witnessed history as Hideki Matsuyama catapulted himself to golfing greatness by becoming Japan’s maiden male major champion, we return to the regular PGA Tour season and what is another important week for two of our European Ryder Cup hopefuls.
Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell tee it up at Harbour Town this week in the RBC Heritage. Both players need good finishes to keep their respective runs of form going and keep their hopes of making Pádraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team alive.
The field this week is particularly strong considering it is the week after a major championship with five of the world’s top 10 starting at Harbour Town.
Lowry heads to Hilton Head in some decent form. He posted a top-10 finish at The Players and finished a career high T-21 at the Masters last week. The RBC Heritage has brought joy to Lowry in the past, he finished third in 2019 – the year of his last win, the Open Championship.
The Clara native played some quality golf at Augusta last week but came away slightly frustrated he wasn’t able to trouble the top-10. The Open Champion ranked 11th in greens hit, which will be a key factor this week given Harbour Town’s tight layout and small greens.
Worryingly, for Lowry his trusted caddie, Bo Martin won’t be on his bag this week. Bo has returned to Ireland and quarantine regulations could keep the duo separated until Lowry returns to defend the Open Championship at Royal St. Georges in July.
Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile
The timing of this situation is unfortunate as it seems the world no.45 is starting to come into a run of form and with a host of big events to come, including the US PGA and the US Open, Lowry’s chances of making the Ryder Cup team in Whistling Straits are severely under threat. Having previously complained of feeling lonely during the pandemic in 2020, it is important that he doesn’t let the absence of Bo hamper him between now and the Open.
If Lowry can adapt mentally without Bo, then another momentum building finish is achievable and perhaps even contend to win over the weekend.
Graeme McDowell had the week off while Lowry battled hard at Augusta, so fatigue shouldn’t be a factor for him this week as it may have been at the Valero Texas Open where he tied for 54th following a top 5 the week before.
The Portrush man has a solid record at the RBC Heritage, where he won in 2013 beating Harbour Town specialist Webb Simpson in a playoff.
G Mac failed to qualify for the Masters last week but can head into the week refreshed and full of confidence after bucking a trend of three missed cuts in a row with two consecutive cuts made on Tour including a T4 at the Corales Puntacana Championship where he was firmly in contention until a bogey, bogey finish saw him fall two short of eventual winner Joel Dahmen.
His performance in the Dominican Republic (albeit in a lesser field) should give the 2010 US Open Champion some confidence as he returns to the location of his first regular PGA Tour win where the conditions are usually similar to what he faced three weeks ago.
Both players are way down the European points list to qualify for the Ryder Cup with Lowry 26th in the rankings and McDowell in 39th. However, they are hot on the heels of Bernd Wiesberger who occupies the final spot in the world points list, Lowry is a place below the Austrian with G Mac a further place adrift.