Abu Dhabi win gave Shane Lowry 'freedom' to become Open champion

You could say it was the win that helped "sheikh" up his career. Shane Lowry, after all, used his success in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 12 months ago to become a major winner with his victory in The Open at Royal Portrush.

“Winning early in the year gives you a freedom to go and play,” admitted the Irishman as he reflected on his title triumph in the desert a year ago, which he set up with a stunning 62 in the opening round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.“It means you don’t put too much pressure on yourself to play well for a while; it is such a boost. Winning once a year is pretty good. If you play 25 events and win once you’ve had a decent year. Little did I know I was going to do what I did at Portrush. But winning here a year ago definitely gave me a lot of confidence going forward."Lowry, who has world No 1 Brooks Koepka among his rivals this time around in the Rolex Series event, is feeling good about his game after finishing strongly to claim second spot behind Australian Wade Ormsby in the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour on Sunday."It’s funny," he said. "People have a perception of me. They think I don’t do anything, just play a bit of golf and live the life. But they don’t see what goes on in the background. I have a good team of people around me and I work very hard.“I was getting a bit of stick last night during a Q&A. Bryson [DeChambeau] was telling us about all the weights he is doing. But I don’t put what I’m doing all over Instagram. I do what i want to do and I do what works for me. I’ve been working hard the last few weeks."But Christmas was about getting way from the game and getting my mind back to being me. So when January started it has been exciting to get back to it. I’m excited about what lies ahead."Lowry's top target this year is securing a spot on Padraig Harrington's team when Europe defend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September.“I am comfortable within myself," he added. "But it’s easy to do that when you’ve won two tournaments, won of them a major. It is after bad seasons like I’ve had before that you really need to believe in yourself. I don’t do things like everyone else. But that is the great thing about golf. There is no one way to do it. And my way is working for me."The 32-year-old, who will make his first appearance on the PGA Tour in the Honda Classic at the end of next month, said of being a major winner: "Little things have changed. When I am home I love going into town, strolling around and having a coffee. When I do that now I notice everyone looking at me. Wendy (his wife) feels it too. When she leaves the house she feels like everyone is staring. That won’t seem like a problem to most people, but it is different. Not more difficult, but different. “Don’t get me wrong. I love being the Open champion. If you don’t love that, why are you plating the game. But it did take a while to adjust. And I probably die put too much pressure on myself at the end of last year to play well. "I didn’t have many great weeks. I did have a couple of top-15s where I was close to playing well. I’ve had a lot of chats with my team over the winter and feel like i am I a good mental space now. I’m more equipped to deal with it all. “I didn’t feel any different. And I don’t now. The only difference was me putting too much pressure on myself. That was always going to happen though.”