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top man 'I played great today' - Shane Lowry upbeat as late birdie gives him hope at PGA Championship

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Shane Lowry hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Photo: AP Photo/David J Phillip

Shane Lowry hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Photo: AP Photo/David J Phillip

Shane Lowry hits his tee shot on the seventh hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Photo: AP Photo/David J Phillip

Shane Lowry was hugely upbeat as he recovered from a 17th hole double bogey with a closing birdie to keep his PGA Championship hopes alive on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

On a day when Ryder Cup skipper Pádraig Harrington produced a magical short game display to shoot 71 and trail leader Corey Conners by just four shots in 16th and Rory McIlroy struggled to a 75 that left him joint 77th, Lowry made a 20 footer at the 18th for a one-over 73 and sounded hugely positive about his chances.

The Open champion missed six birdie putts inside 15 feet in his first 16 holes and was level for the day before he plugged awkwardly in sandy area left of the 17th and made a double-bogey five after being forced to simply nudge his ball forward into a deep “bunker”.

The Clara man made little more than a 14 footer for birdie at the third, which he gave back by failing to get up and down at the par-three eighth and after finally making that 20 footer for birdie at the 18th, he will be hoping he can repeat his tee to green display today and make a few putts to get right back into contention.

“I played great today,” said the Offaly man, who was tied for 41st on one-over but just six behind the Canadian Corey Conners. “My putter let me down big time. I felt like I had four great chances or I had four putts inside 10 feet on 6, 7, 8, 9.

"You hole a couple of those and you turn in a couple under, but I just kind of grinded it out all day, and I was hitting good shot after good shot after good shot.”

His double-bogey at the 17th was a bad break but he was able to shrug that off quickly with a stunning four-iron to the last and a deft putt.

“I pulled my tee shot on 17, but where else are you going to hit it?” He said. “You're not going to hit it right. I got a really, really bad break there. That was disappointing.

“But I'm very happy the way I finished. I was very happy to bounce back from that double, with a birdie on the last especially.

“A hole like the last hole is not that easy, driver, 4-iron and holed the putt. It's really nice, going to make dinner taste a little bit nicer tonight.
"But it's kind of one of those rounds where I probably should have shot a couple under anyway, and I should be right in the tournament. But I feel like the way I'm playing I am in the tournament.”

As for the 17th, he said: “Yeah, I hit it left and it kind of pitched six inches over the bunker, and I don't know whether it was sand blowing out of the bunker by the wind, kind of plugged there.

“I didn't know where to stand, I didn't know where to hit it. I was thinking of taking the penalty shot. I thought the bunker shot was easier, then I hit it in the bunker and I hit it on the part of the bunker where there was no sand in it and I hit a bad bunker shot.

“It wasn't the best break I've ever got, but I suppose if I made 4 on 17 and had to par the last, I would have been like, oh, 1-over isn't that bad.

“To birdie the last and play the last two in one-over was okay. I just need to go out tomorrow and do the same thing. If I hole a few putts I can be right there on the weekend.”

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Harrington turned back the clock to that magical 1997 World Cup win with Paul McGinley at Pete Dye’s South Carolina masterpiece and mixed an eagle and a solitary birdie with two bogeys and nine par saves for his one-under 71 to lie tied 16th, just four strokes shots behind Conners.

The Canadian (29) made six birdies and 121 feet of putts in five-under 67 to lead by two strokes from the impressive Norwegian Viktor Hovland, 2011 champion Keegan Bradley, former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Aaron Wise, two-time winner Brooks Koepka, England’s Sam Horsfield and Australian Cameron Davis.

Defending champion Collin Morikawa, veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Will Zalatoris were in a eight-man logjam for eighth after two-under 70s as Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm shot 72, Jordan Spieth a 73 and Dustin Johnson a 76 following a closing double-bogey.

“I thought it was a really good setup,” said Harrington, who raised eyebrows earlier in the week when he suggested Sergio Garcia was a shoo-in for one of three wildcards with Ian Poulter not far behind.

“It's a big, tough golf course, but they set it up very fairly today. They moved enough tees up and they had some reasonable generous pin positions, so overall it was a good test. Maybe like all majors, maybe I was a bit defensive with my own play at times, but didn't put myself under much stress.”

Asked if he could make his own team if he won a Major this summer, he said: "I'd be very happy. I'm a bit long in the tooth now for - Ryder Cup is a big - five rounds of golf? No, I'm happy to be captain and let them hit the ball.”

As for the wildcard scenario and Lowry’s battle to make the team, he made it clear that he doesn’t consider the Clara man a rookie.

“In general, rookies have to play their way into a spot. Nobody really refers to Shane as a rookie. He's a major winner, so that's a completely different scenario,” Harrington said.

“Again, that's what I'm saying, there's no rules to these things because you have to take these things into consideration, and the fact that he's a big-time player, he likes the big occasion -- even as a rookie he's not going to be star struck, is he.”

As for McIlroy, the Holywood star was tied 77th as he drove into water at his opening hole, the 10th, birdied the next two holes but then played his last 12 holes in four-over as he played the par-fives in two-over.

He’s struggled in the opening rounds of Majors since the most recent of his four wins seven years ago and is now 35 over for his last 24, starting 75-76-75 in his last three Major starts alone.

He can get back into the mix if he can break par this afternoon. But that's a huge "if" after he finished the day tied 77th, a shot outside the top 70 and ties who will make the cut.

As for the leader, Conners (29) showed his 10th place finish in the Masters was no fluke as he made six birdies and took just 24 putts in a 67 on a day when the average score was 74.7.

“I'd say it's impossible to be stress-free around this golf course,” said the man from Listowel, Ontario. “You can't fall asleep out there on any holes. It's very challenging.”

He added: “It was a really special round. It's really nice to see some mid-range birdie putts fall in the hole… A lot of putts had chances to go in and I made some nice saves, as well."

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