Shane Lowry gets off to a solid start amidst flurry of low scores in California

Leona Maguire signs for level par 72 first round, good for 22nd place after day one of HGV Tournament on LPGA Tour

Shane Lowry got off to a solid opening round in his season bow in the American Express Championship at La Quinta in the California desert. Trouble was, others – among them Rico Hoey, a tour rookie who graduated off the Korn Ferry circuit – were even hotter.

Playing for the first time since November, Lowry – who is focused on the PGA Tour for the first part of the season in his bid to earn status in the monied signature tournaments stateside – put together an accomplished opening round of five-under-par 67 at La Quinta, one of three courses used in the tournament.

Lowry got off to a flying start with back-to-back birdies on his opening two holes, having started on the 10th. He moved to three-under with a third birdie of the round on the 14th and made a good par save from a greenside bunker on the 15th. However, Lowry dropped a shot on the 16th after hitting his approach into a bunker then bounced back with a birdie on 17 to turn in 33, three-under.

On his homeward run, Lowry picked up another birdie on the par four first to move to four-under before dropping a shot on the par three 12th and then added further birdies on the par five fifth and sixth holes before finishing with three pars.


Lowry’s 67 left him inside the top-25 when he finished, while the birdie fest enjoyed by many – Philippines golfer Hoey included a run of four successive birdies on his back nine at the Nicklaus Tournament course while Zach Johnson had a run of six straight birdies at La Quinta – reflected the generally low scoring.

In her season-opening event in the HGV Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona on the LPGA Tour, Leona Maguire recovered from a tough front nine – she turned in two over with bogeys on the sixth and seventh – to sign for a level par 72, which left her in tied-22nd place.

Japan’s Ayaka Furue claimed the first round lead with a brilliant, bogey-free seven-under-par 65, two shots clear of Sweden’s Maja Stark and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez.

For Rory McIlroy, uncharacteristic errors surfaced as he came to the close of his first round in defence of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at The Emirates Golf Club: tied for the lead on four-under with five holes to play, the world number two suffered three successive bogeys on the home stretch to ultimately sign for a one-under-par 71 in tied-27th, four shots adrift of a quartet of co-leaders.

Former champion Li Haotong of China, Denmark’s Rasmus Hojgaard, England’s Andy Sullivan and American Cameron Young – on a rare break away from the PGA Tour for this €8.25 million Rolex Series event on the DP World Tour – all signed for 67s.

McIlroy, a three-time winner of the tournament, was in a strong position until a series of lapses led to bogeys on the sixth (where he three-putted from 45 feet), the seventh (where he missed the green left with his tee shot and only barely made the putting surface with his recovery) and the eighth (where he again missed the green with an approach shot from the middle of the fairway). He was forced to sink a four-footer for a par save on the ninth, his last, to stave off four bogeys in a row.

Tom McKibbin produced a solid round – two birdies, two bogeys – for an opening round of level par 72 in tied-42nd, while Pádraig Harrington – who has recovered from pneumonia and opted to start his season’s work in the UAE rather than on the Champions Tour stateside – opened with a 71 in tied-61st.

“Kind of sums up my day. Stressful. Typical of the first tournament of the year. I had no idea where it was going so 73 was a decent effort,” claimed Harrington of his return to competition.

The renaissance of Li continued, following a top-20 last week in the Dubai Invitational and coming after a nightmare season in 2023 when he missed 18 of 22 cuts.

A winner over the course in 2018 when he held off none other than McIlroy, Li remarked: “I can’t believe it is six years. I’ve a lot of good memories and hopefully I can continue to do some magic here.”

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Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times