Shane Lowry aiming to hit the ground running as he changes traditional start from Dubai to the PGA Tour

Offaly man looking to improve on a ‘pretty average’ campaign in 2023 as he skips Dubai option to tee it up in the American Express Championship in California

Shane Lowry is nothing if not pragmatic.

So, although the Middle East has been the traditional starting point for his year’s work in the past, this time – a shifting of the sands to some extent – sees the Offaly man forgo Dubai in favour of getting up-and-running in the Californian desert where the American Express Championship on the PGA Tour kick-starts his season.

The rationale behind Lowry’s decision to start stateside rather than in the UAE on the DP World Tour is easy to understand. As things stand, Lowry isn’t guaranteed starting spots in the PGA Tour’s new “signature” tournaments – dependent on invitations as of now, with the AT&T Pebble Beach pro-am in little over a fortnight one of them – but he can also play his way into them, with the Amex at La Quinta effectively getting the show on the road.

Lowry was 20th in the world rankings this time last year but now starts his season’s work ranked 43rd after what he described as a “pretty average” campaign in 2023. As he reflected of last year: “Not much bad stuff, not much great stuff, a lot of good and a lot of okay!”


Certainly Lowry – at 36 years of age and with a string of big-time wins on his CV, including the Open along with flagship events including the BMW PGA Championship and WGCs – is looking ahead rather to the past as he embarks on the season.

“I think I’ve been around long enough to know that professional golf, it ebbs and flows, you just have to keep doing what you feel is right. As long as you do that and things aren’t going too badly, you just have to believe that the best is yet to come.

“And I think that’s what we’re great at as professional golfers. We all believe that the best is yet to come and I’m hopeful that’s the case,” said Lowry, who has been put into a marquee group along with Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele for the opening two rounds of the American Express Championship played over three courses in the Californian desert.

Lowry is the lone Irishman in the field at La Quinta after Séamus Power – who has played back-to-back weeks in Hawaii – opted to withdraw from the tournament and instead take a week’s rest before adding next week’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego to his schedule.

Another player making her season’s debut is Leona Maguire, who is effectively on home turf for the LPGA Tour’s season-opener, the HGV Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona in Florida.

There is a limited field of past champions from the past two seasons competing – in a pro-am format but with the professionals playing for a coveted title, won by Brooke Henderson last year – and Maguire is in a group with world number one Lilia Vu and amateur Brian Baumgartner, a comedy actor who features in the US version of The Office.

Maguire, the world number 26, is getting her year’s work under way with back-to-back tournaments in Florida, following up the Tournament of Champions with next week’s LPGA Drive On Championship, a two-hour drive away in Bradenton.

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington – who has recovered from a bout of pneumonia which affected him over the holiday period – and Tom McKibbin are all playing in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

McIlroy, the defending champion, will be looking to bounce back from losing out to Tommy Fleetwood in last week’s Dubai Invitational before shifting his attention back to the PGA Tour where the Northern Irishman has decided on a heavier schedule than usual in the build up to the Masters at Augusta in April.

“I feel like this tournament has been a sort of staple in my life for at least half of it. I’ve been coming back to this tournament for 18 years, so over half my life. So wonderful memories of Dubai,” said McIlroy, who is seeking a fourth success in the event.

“I feel like it was a place that gave me one of my first opportunities to come out and play on this tour. My first sponsor was from here. My first win was here. A lot of firsts for me in this region so it’s been an incredible journey and I’m always excited to get back to Dubai with the success that I’ve had here on this golf course and over at Jumeirah Golf Estates too at the end of the year. I’ve always liked kicking my year off here. It’s a familiar place for me and I feel like if I can play well here, it’s a really good sort of stepping stone to the rest of the year.”

The Lowdown

Dubai Desert Classic

Purse: €8.25 million (€1.5m to the winner)

Where: UAE

The course: The Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club – 7,428 yards Par 72 – was originally designed by Karl Litten and was the first grass course built in the Middle East. A major renovation of the green complexes was completed in recent years which increased the size of the greens by an average 33 per cent in returning them to their original state and also bringing greenside bunkers more into play.

The field: McIlroy is a three-time winner of the tournament (2009, 2015 and 2023) and the world number two is again the headline act. Brian Harman, last year’s Open champion, and Tyrrell Hatton have made the onward journey from Hawaii to the desert to add some stardust while Tommy Fleetwood is aiming to win in back-to-back weeks after claiming the Dubai Invitational.

Quote-Unquote: “I’ve had a lot of near misses where I feel like I might have hit a shot that has cost me a tournament, and other times people play well. Experience tells you that there’s going to be those moments. I think the more that you’re in contention, the more that you’re in those situations, obviously the more it’s going to show up because you’re not going to win every single week you play. I think that’s just the way the game is. [Last week] it was my turn, and you know, just be happy when those times come” – Tommy Fleetwood on rediscovering the winning feeling after his victory in the Dubai Invitational.

Irish in the field: Rory McIlroy, Tom McKibbin and Pádraig Harrington.

Betting: Rory McIlroy knows the course like the back of his hand – he first played as a 16-year-old and in his fledgling professional career was resident for four years in the UAE – so unsurprisingly heads the market as a tight 11/4 favourite ahead of Ryder Cup team-mates Tyrrell Hatton (15/2) and last week’s winner Tommy Fleetwood (8/1) . . . . better value might be found in the each-way market with Thriston Lawrence available at 40/1 and Michael Thorbjornson at 70/1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports (live coverage from 3.30am).

HVC Tournament of Champions

Purse: €1.4 million (€205,000 to the winner)

Where: Orlando, Florida

The course: Lake Nona Golf Club – 6,617 yards Par 72 – is a challenging course designed by Tom Fazio. The front nine is tree-lined while the back nine is more open with a great variety of holes and requiring accurate approach play.

The field: There may be just 36 players in the field – the event is limited to tournament winners from the previous two seasons – but it is a loaded line-up, headed by world number one Lilia Vu and also featuring fellow Major winners of last year in Allisen Corpuz and world number two Ruoning Yin along with defending champion Brooke Henderson.

Quote-Unquote: “This is a very challenging golf course. It’s a lot fun to play, especially if you’re hitting it well. You really have to know where you’re going and have a strategy going in. But with the weather the way it looks the rest of the week with pretty cold temperatures and windy and possible rain as well, it’s going to take a lot of skill to navigate” – defending champion Brooke Henderson.

Irish in the field: Leona Maguire is paired with Lilia Vu (tee time 3.59pm Irish time)

Betting: Lilia Vu, the world number one, and course specialist Nelly Korda are market leader at 6/1 with defending champion Brooke Henderson a 9/1 shot . . . . Leona Maguire looks decent each-way value at 28/1.

TV: Live on Sky Sports (6pm)

The American Express Championship

Purse: €7.75 million (€1.35m to the winner)

Where: California, USA

The course: There are three courses used for the first three rounds of the pro-am format – the PGA West Stadium Course, La Quinta Country Club and PGA West Nicklaus Course – which traditionally see low-scoring from the professionals. The Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course (7,187 yards Par 72) will play host to the final round.

The field: World number one Scottie Scheffler is the headline act in the Californian desert in a strong field that also features Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay (who holds the course record 61 on the Stadium Course) and the return of Daniel Berger who hasn’t played on tour in over 18 months due to injury. Chris Kirk and Grayson Murray, winners on the PGA Tour the past two weeks in Hawaii, are also playing.

Irish in the field: Séamus Power was originally entered but withdrew midweek to focus on next week’s Farmers Insurance Open which leaves Shane Lowry as the lone Irishman. Lowry is in a marquee group along with Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele (tee time 4.41pm Irish time).

Quote-Unquote: “I’ve learned a lot in my 10 years. I wouldn’t trade it for getting here any sooner, I think the timing is perfect. God’s got me right where I’m supposed to be” – Tom Whitney on finally making it to the PGA Tour as a 34-year-old rookie.

Betting: No surprise to find Scottie Scheffler installed as the 11/2 favourite with Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele rated as 9/1 shots . . . . Sam Burns is worth an each way look at 33s, while Shane Lowry – on his season’s debut – is rated a 40/1 shot.

On TV: Live On Sky Sports Golf from 9pm.

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Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times