The Open: Shane Lowry defends Covid protocols as Zach Johnson withdraws

Unlike 2015 winner Zach Johnson, who has been forced to withdraw, defending champion Shane Lowry has made it safely to Royal St George’s, where, 12 months later than scheduled, the Claret Jug has finally been handed back by the Irishman to the R&A.

Defending champion Shane Lowry is watched by his coach, Edinburgh man Neil Manchip, during his first practice round for the 149th Open at Royal St George's. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.
Defending champion Shane Lowry is watched by his coach, Edinburgh man Neil Manchip, during his first practice round for the 149th Open at Royal St George's. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images.

“I'm happy to be here, and I'm happy to be here in some sort of a normal capacity as regards to having quite a few people out on the golf course,” said Lowry after getting his first look at the Sandwich course.

Heavy morning rain - it turned wet again in the afternoon - meant Lowry’s Monday plan at the 149th Open had to be changed.

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“I got here at 8am and was planning on playing 18 holes, but the weather wasn't very favourable,” said the Clara man, who walked the front nine before heading out with his clubs to play the first two and last 10 when it brightened up for a spell.

He’s already looking forward to being announced on the first tee as the defending champion on Thursday but reckons he’ll have to be focused from the get go.

“I'll be happy obviously to get that tee shot away, and, if you've seen the rough down the first hole, I'll be even happier if it's on the fairway,” he said, laughing.

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Royal St George’s, where Darren Clarke claimed the Claret Jug on the event’s last visit in 2011, is notorious for having fairways with adverse cambers that can see straight-looking tee shots end up off the fairway.

Due to the course having had the sting out of by earlier wet weather in the build up to the season’s final major, Lowry didn’t find that in his curtailed first recce.

“It's going to be soft probably for the next day or so,” he said. “But the course will hopefully dry out a little bit and play a little bit what St George's is supposed to play like.

“It's difficult to get a feeling for what it could actually play like today because everything that I've heard over the years is that St George's, you can hit decent shots and they get bounces on to the fairway and kicked into the rough.

“I didn't see any of that out there today. I'm going to play late tomorrow, I might play late on Wednesday just trying to get a feeling for how fiery the course could actually play come Thursday.”

Johnson joined current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and two-time Augusta winner Bubba Watson in being ruled out of the event due to Covid-19.

“Look, obviously it's not ideal, but that's the world we live in at the minute,” said Lowry of the protocols, which include players being in strict bubbles, being implemented by the R&A.

“That's the rules we have to abide by. If you test positive, you can't play. The R&A are doing a good job this week of trying to keep us away from as many people as they can.

“I know there's going to be 32,000 people there. I think that's great for the tournament, but you just have to mind yourself. I'm not saying Zach didn't mind himself because he probably got it somewhere stupid. But that's just the nature of the world we live in at the minute.”

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