Shane Lowry on The Bear's Club, Rory McIlroy and who won their money match
"I probably would have laughed, to be honest, but I would have taken your hand off."
At the end of 2018, Shane Lowry sat 75th in the world and he was not happy with where his game was at. Had he been told where he would be by November 2019, he would have scarcely believed it.
11 months on and Lowry is The Open champion, up to 19th in the world, and the reigning HSBC Abu Dhabi champion too. On Sunday, if all goes well in Dubai, he will bank another title and another stack of chips as the European Tour champion.
The Offaly native is currently fourth in the overall 'Race to Dubai' rankings and is one of five golfers in with a chance of winning the big pot. Topping the super-charged European order of merit was not at the top of his 2019 priorities list but he is well aware of how significant victory would be.
"You look at the names on the trophy and who’s won it and anybody who’s anybody in European golf has won it," says Lowry.
He's not wrong. In the past decade, seven men have taken home the honours, and cash - Rory McIlroy three times, Henrick Stenson twice and one apiece for Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald, Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.
Also in the race with Lowry are current rankings leader Bernd Wiesberger, John Rahm, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood, who shot up from 10th to 2nd after his big win last weekend.
McIlroy is down in sixth in the Race to Dubai standings so can't top the order of merit even if he wins at the Jumeirah Golf Estates course in Dubai this weekend. He would still take home a winners' cheque of £1.3m if he could top the stellar field of the tour's top 60 golfers.
McIlroy is already quids in, this week, after taking on Lowry in a friendly 'money match' over nine holes, on Monday.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 18, 2019
Asked about this nine-hole match, Lowry told reporters, "I would have voted for Rory for the Player of the Year. You look at the year he had… I played 9 holes with him yesterday and it’s easy to see how he well he has done."
"Well," Lowry added, "Rory took the money and quite easily.
"I’ve got a good relationship with Rory. I spent a few months down where he lives, in Palm Beach, and we were both here last week. We went out for dinner on Friday night together. We would have had dinner together in New York after the FedEx (Championship).
"We'll always try to get dinner together when we are (touring) together, at least once that week. Then, when we are in Florida together, we'll try catch up as well. We play out of (Jack Nicklaus') The Bear's Club as well and play some golf together on weeks off."
McIlroy has gone four years without winning a Major while Lowry captured The Claret Jug at Royal Portrush earlier this year. The Holywood native had Lowry's vote for 'Golfer of the Year' and pipped Brooks Koepka to that accolade.
Lowry was asked if there was one aspect of world number two McIlroy's game that he wish he possessed. He replied:
"It would be nice to be playing from 340 yards, in the middle of the fairway, down every hole.
"When I think of the one thing that he's got [that I'd like], it's his carefree attitude, and the way he plays the game. I know he obviously does care about it but they way that it looks about how he goes about his business. I'd love to be able to have that week in, week out. That's what most impresses me - how well he does, and responds, to bad shots."
Honest as ever, Lowry assesses his own game as "okay" going into another big weekend of golf.
"I’d be lying if I said it felt great… I’ve been doing some work on my putting in the last couple of weeks. If that comes together, I should be in good shape."