Shane Lowry shakes off Masters disappointment with fine opening 66 at RBC Heritage
SHANE Lowry shook off his post-Masters blues with a fine opening round at the RBC Heritage in South Carolina yesterday.
The Offaly man missed the cut at Augusta last week, slumping to a second round 79 after an opening 72 had put him in a good place to mount a challenge.
However, he showed no scars from that experience yesterday as an opening 66 left him three shots off the lead, held by American Bud Cauley (63).
Lowry shot seven birdies, with his only blemishes coming at holes nine and 14.
Luke Donald continued his love affair with Harbour Town Golf Links as he posted an opening 65 to sit in a share of second place.
The Englishman has recorded six top-threes in his last eight appearances at the venue and he got off to a strong start on Thursday, carding an eagle, five birdies and a single bogey to get to six-under par.
Cauley holds a two-shot lead after producing a flawless 63 to reach eight-under, with Donald, American Sam Saunders and Canadian Graham DeLaet in a tie for second.
Donald's fellow Englishman Ian Poulter was among the group a shot further back on five-under alongside Lowry, Webb Simpson, Danny Lee, Russell Henley and Ben Crane.
Beginning his round at the 10th tee on Thursday morning, former world number one Donald rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at his first hole before dropping his only shot of the day at the next.
After tapping in for another birdie at the 12th, Donald made back-to-back gains at the 17th and 18th to get to three-under par at the turn.
The 39-year-old jumped to the top of the pile when he sank his eagle putt at the second after sending his approach to three feet.
Donald then picked up another shot at the fifth to move to six-under before safely parring the final four holes to set the early clubhouse target.
In an interview screened on the PGA Tour's website, Donald said: "This place has been kind to me. It's nice to get off to a great start again.
"It's always nice to come back to places you feel comfortable and you've had success. Obviously I've had a lot of success here in the last eight years - I've done everything but win.
"It would be nice to give myself another chance to try and finally get over that hurdle."
Cauley reached the turn in 32 after making gains at the first, second, fifth and ninth.
The 27-year-old picked up another shot at the 14th before closing his round with three straight gains to finish the day on eight-under.
DeLaet, meanwhile, made four birdies on his front nine before adding two further gains at the second and fourth, while Saunders birdied his last three holes to join Donald in a share of second.
Meanwhile, in Morocco, England’s James Morrison was part of a four-way tie for the lead as the top 52 players were separated by just three shots after the opening round of the Trophee Hassan II.
Morrison carded five birdies and two bogeys on the Red Course at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam to join Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard and the French pair of Gregory Havret and Gary Stal on three-under par.
Three more French players – Alexander Levy, Clement Sordet and Gregory Bourdy – were among a large group on two-under, with Scotland’s Scott Jamieson, David Drysdale and Duncan Stewart another stroke back.
Paul Dunne shot a level par 73 to lie within three of the lead, while Michael Hoey – playing on an invite as a former champion – is far from out of it despite a three-over round of 76.
The damage to Hoey’s card was done at two holes on his front nine, with a double bogey and a triple bogey at par fives. He dropped another shot to go to six-over, but three late birdies gives him hope of making the weekend.
Gregory Havret, who finished runner-up to Graeme McDowell in the 2010 US Open, said: “It’s good to play under par, anything in the red here is very good on a very tough course, so I’m happy.
“This course always plays hard and since the changes a few years ago it’s even harder. When the wind is changing it’s not easy to find the right club.
“It’s in perfect condition, the course is just in great shape and we always enjoy it here. It’s definitely a test of golf. I think it’s one of the toughest all season.”
Levy has not played since finishing fourth in Malaysia in the middle of February, but showed few ill-effects as he carded four birdies and an eagle in his 71.
“I’ve had eight weeks off, I’ve practised a lot and changed coach so it’s nice to come back out to play a tournament,” Levy said.
“It’s exciting to bring all that hard work over the last eight weeks back out on the golf course.”
Defending champion Jeunghun Wang, who missed the cut on his Masters debut last week, faces a battle to avoid another early exit after struggling to a four-over-par 77.
And former Masters champion Mike Weir, who has not made a cut since November 2014, fared even worse with six bogeys and a double bogey in an 81.