THE MASTERS

MASTERS 2021: Like the azaleas, it’s time for Lowry to bloom once again

By Ronan MacNamara

Shane Lowry will make the picturesque drive down Magnolia Lane still with the accolade of being Open champion at this week’s Masters. The Clara man will tee it up at Augusta National very much under the radar. If ever an Open Champion arrived at the Masters with less fanfare, it’s Lowry.

After a promising showing from our women at the ANA Inspiration and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last week, it’s time for the lads to step up and give us something to cheer about after a pretty retched 12 months.

Lowry has struggled for form since his euphoric win at Royal Portrush in 2019, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary, many have struggled to adjust to the title of being a major champion (take Willett for example), but Lowry really has been on a downward curve since that day. The Masters is traditionally seen as the real start of the golf season, and with plenty of big tournaments to come, there will be plenty of opportunities for Lowry to show he isn’t a flash in the pan major winner.

The 34-year-old arrives at Augusta with only two top-10s since his Open win. The latter of those was at the Players Championship a few weeks ago, where a well-behaved putter saw him on the fringes of contending on Sunday. He was also in contention after two rounds of the Honda Classic, shooting 67, 68 before two rounds of 74 saw him fall down the leaderboard to finish T36th.

Amidst the backdrop of the blooming azaleas and colourful dogwood, Lowry has surprisingly failed to blossom at Augusta, missing the halfway cut in 3 of his 5 appearances. His best finish is T25th in the November edition and given the expected firm April conditions this week that looks a modest effort at a vulnerable Augusta.

The 8th placed finish at The Players and a strong start at The Honda Classic show the Offaly man is slowly turning it around. It’s no surprise that when Lowry parked the putting woes that have ailed him in the last 18 months, he finished in the top 10.

Tee to green he has been solid. Augusta is a second shot golf course, particularly in the firm conditions, it is imperative you are in the fairway to give yourself the best chance at finding the correct levels on the greens. Lowry ranks 33rd in strokes gained tee to green, for a man who has had a poor season, that looks better than it seems. He is 88th in strokes gained approach which is a crucial statistic heading to Augusta. However, at The Players Championship he hit 89% of greens in regulation, a good barometer given the firm greens at the Pete Dye layout. This season he has hit 69% of greens so his tee to green game should have yielded a more promising record at Augusta.

His achilles heel is the putter. He is losing strokes to the tour and is 153rd in strokes gained putting this season. There have been signs that the dark clouds surrounding him on the greens have been clearing. Recently at the Players, the early stages of the Honda Classic and he held some crucial putts under pressure to take Jon Rahm all the way at the Matchplay a fortnight ago. He has been slowly turning the tide. The Open Champion has the heart and has shown he can do it against the best. He seldom wins but when he does, they have been biggies, so it probably is high time he put in a performance on the big stage once again.

If the putter behaves this week, Lowry can certainly improve on his T25 finish from five months ago (or T39th in April if November/April comparisons are a thing). He has been quietly confident about the state of his game heading to Augusta. Lowry has had his family in the States over the past few weeks and that can only help his mood off the course, having found the going tough in 2020 being away from his family for so long.

Although it may seem forever ago, he is still the Champion Golfer of the Year.The bigger picture for Lowry is playing his way into Pádraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup side so a good finish this week will hopefully kickstart a run of form.

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