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in the rough If Padraig Harrington was naming his Ryder Cup team today it would be impossible to include Shane Lowry

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Seven months have passed since Shane Lowry’s most recent top-ten finish on Tour

Seven months have passed since Shane Lowry’s most recent top-ten finish on Tour

Seven months have passed since Shane Lowry’s most recent top-ten finish on Tour

SHANE Lowry will always have Portrush, an imperishable glory that seemed to emanate from the core of his being.

Lowry announced himself as a golfing immortal amid the Antrim sandhills, locating competitive grit and assurance from another world to deliver one of the most uplifting and beautiful Irish sporting chapters.

That he is such a patently sound fella, a GAA-loving Offaly everyman who enjoys a pint, that his elation was tattooed to his entire being as he floated down the 18th fairway toward the Claret Jug, ensured his electrifying Open triumph made a bone-deep connection with a euphoric audience.

It was one of those rare moments that sends a unifying rush of happiness right across the nation.

On that magical July Sunday, as his name was added to the historic roll call of major winners, there seemed no ceiling to all the Clara sorcerer might achieve.

Amid the giddy chorus that rose above the storied Dunluce links, anybody suggesting Shane might find the gates to Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team padlocked would have been mocked for duck-hooking logic out of bounds.

Yet, a lost year, one where Lowry’s natural-born ability to take on and conquer the best of the rest has been temporarily disabled, leaves the Irishman requiring a persuasive power surge to avoid precisely that terrible reality.

Rory McIlroy is not alone in his urgent requirement for the golfing flame to be relighted.

Lowry’s Open triumph was momentous, but time has passed: Not even one of Bryson DeChambeau’s crushing drives - the thumping Babe Ruth style home-runs that sent such an adrenalin rush around Bay Hill's sixth hole last weekend - could cover the 597 days since a Portrush moment in time that trilled and quavered like joyous birdsong.

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Shane Lowry proudly holds the Claret Jug

Shane Lowry proudly holds the Claret Jug

Shane Lowry proudly holds the Claret Jug

McIlroy’s latest Sunday misfire (dunking two balls in the lake at the same par-5 DeChambeau bathed in a rock star's aura), one that saw him tumble from the world’s top ten, has, as a consequence of his superstar wattage, set social media ablaze.

Yet any unsentimental appraisal insists Lowry’s slide to the margins has been more precipitous than that of his friend.

Shane's poverty of performance is illustrated by some stark numbers: Since Portrush, he has missed ten cuts while enjoying just a single top five finish in 37 starts – and that at the low key Hong Kong Open 14 months ago.

Seven months have passed since Lowry’s most recent top ten, four impressive rounds in the 60s securing a sixth place finish at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational, a reminder of his ability to crackle and fizz on the biggest stage.

His best finish in 2021 is a tied-27th in Dubai, a distant 13 shots behind Paul Casey. For a player of his pedigree, it is a dismal return.

From a high of 17, his world ranking has fallen to 40. And the Ryder Cup storyline that seemed to have been written in indelible ink two summers ago is in real danger of fading off the page.

If Harrington was naming his team today it would be impossible to legitimately include a player and a person he holds in the highest regard.

There is hardly a sporting fan in the land who won’t be rooting for Shane to make September’s flight to Wisconsin to face what is shaping up to be one of the most muscularly formidable American teams in living memory.

But to do so, he will need to relocate the Lowry who tuned his game to a new bandwidth of excellence in the first seven months of 2019. Portrush was the highest peak in a Himalayan run of form which yielded two wins, a second and a third, as well as an eighth place finish at the PGA Championship.

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Rory McIlroy continues to struggle with his form

Rory McIlroy continues to struggle with his form

Rory McIlroy continues to struggle with his form

Lowry would not be the first enormously talented golfer to find the expectations and pressure that accompany a major breakthrough can be initially crushing.

But with so many of his peers making telling Ryder Cup moves, the need for him to follow with a compelling statement of his own grows.

John Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, McIlroy, Victor Hovland, Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood look nailed on to backbone Harrington’s team. That leaves just four tickets to golfing paradise.

Then Harrington has to consider the claims of Ryder Cup heavyweights Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari and Ian Poulter, while Robert MacIntyre, Bernd Wiesberger, Victor Perez and Danny Willett have all made more eloquent recent claims than the 2009 Irish Open winner.

Achieving his European debut at Whistling Straits is Lowry’s alpha and omega for 2021, a heartfelt ambition made more acute by his bond of friendship with his captain.

Yet, just six months out from Harrington’s team announcement, he is currently on the outside looking in.

The good news is there remains ample to grow into an unanswerable rush of form. This week’s Players Championship and all the drama that will unspool around the iconic 17th at TPC Sawgrass launches the season into another dimension. Augusta in April, begins a four month rush-hour, one of major championship gridlock.

As of September 12th, the top four players from a European Points list and then five more from a World Points list will qualify automatically. Lowry currently resides well off the pace in 33rd and 19th on those two charts.

Three captain’s picks complete the team and though Padraig would be loath to go into battle against a phenomenally deep American side without Europe’s most recent major winner, both parties understand that Lowry needs to make a weighty, coherent, and sustained show of form on the golf course.

Harrington is not merely a friend of Lowry, he is intimate with a golf game that might have been constructed with the Ryder Cup in mind. As recently as January, the Dubliner outlined his desire to have his countryman fully-firing and making him the kind of offer he can’t refuse.

“I keep telling Shane ‘please make it easy on me’ and that is make the top nine…the type of golf course we are going to will suit Shane Lowry, nobody else will think of him as a rookie.”

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Padraig Harrington has some tough choices to make

Padraig Harrington has some tough choices to make

Padraig Harrington has some tough choices to make

But then came the brutal truth, the one that will face every Ryder Cup captain for so long as a loaves and fishes type miracle is beyond their mortal capabilities.

“There’s no guarantee about getting picked, the only guarantee is making the top nine.”

McIlroy’s seven years without a major, the near 500 days since his last win anywhere, the fattening catalogue of Sunday disappointments, have raised the decibel level on questions about his competitive spine, along with the need to perhaps reboot his career with for a caddy or coaching change.

Yet, since Lowry’s Portrush pyrotechnics, Rory has compiled 18 top ten finishes, 12 top fives and two wins.

McIlroy’s superior talent is such that it both infuriates and bewilders when flashes of untouchable brilliance are so often followed by killing errors, the kind that speak of some competitive or technical brittleness.

But such is his ability to conjure shots beyond even the best of the rest that he could put down the clubs for six months and still it would be unthinkable for Harrington not to build his team around the four-time major winner’s stellar talents.

Lowry’s warm, gregarious personality, his affinity for team sport and his velvet touch with a wedge all suggest the Ryder Cup would be his natural habitat.

Yet right now even the veteran Harrington, while burdened with the captaincy distraction and fresh from an encounter with Covid-19, is showing better form than a player nearly two decades his junior. Shane will always have that week among the Antrim sandhills, but every fibre of his being craves adding a week in Wisconsin to his highlight reel.

Harrington will not be alone among Lowry's Irish fan club in putting down the prayer mat and beseeching the golfing gods to urgently reawaken the prince of Portrush.

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