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The 149th Open: Shane Lowry relishing chance to defend Claret Jug in front of 32,000 fans

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“Not playing in front of fans doesn’t do it for me, that’s just the way it is. I feel like 2020 was a bit of a write-off for me.”; Shane Lowry welcomes the prospect of 32,000 fans per day for his defence of The Open.

Sky Sports

Shane Lowry looks back on his 2019 victory at The Open and assesses his hopes of winning this year’s contest at Royal St George’s.

Shane Lowry finally gets the chance to defend The Open title this week and, although he has an “open mind” regarding his expectations, he is relishing the prospect of playing in front of a bumper crowd.

Lowry kept hold of the Claret Jug for a little under two years following his memorable six-shot victory at Royal Portrush in 2019, having been denied the opportunity to defend when the Championship was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Irishman arrived at Royal St George’s in fine spirits as he prepares for the new experience of defending a major, and while he was unsure about how he would handle the occasion, Lowry feels his performance levels will be lifted by the energy from outside the ropes, with 32,000 spectators per day in attendance.

Lowry is looking forward to playing in front of big crowds in Sandwich Lowry is looking forward to playing in front of big crowds in Sandwich

“I look back on 2020 as a season, and without making excuses too much, I think playing in front of fans does it for me,” said the 32-year-old, who is content with his form this year after posting four top-10s in his last 10 starts, including an eighth place at The Players and a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship.

“Not playing in front of fans doesn’t do it for me, that’s just the way it is. I think I struggled last year coming out of lockdown. I was playing great. I’ve never played as much golf in my life, and then I just was stale when I got out there. I just couldn’t get it going.

“I think even little things like if you’re struggling to make a cut or if you’re down at the bottom of the field, having people out there on the golf course kind of spurs you on a little bit. At the end of the day, like I said at the Irish Open a couple of weeks ago, we’re kind of in the entertainment business when we’re out there.

“When I have a difficult shot or when I’m stuck behind a tree or I have a tough up-and-down, I’m trying to almost show off a little bit.

“I feel like 2020 was a bit of a write-off for me. Obviously my form is pretty decent coming in this year and I’m pretty happy with that, but I don’t really look back on 2020 with too much of anything, to be honest. It’s kind of put it behind me and move on, and this year thankfully has been a little bit better.”

Lowry’s storming victory at Portrush was the sixth of his career, but he admits the experience of his previous title defences could pale into insignificance compared to defending The Open.

Sky Sports Ahead of his title defence at The Open, Shane Lowry shows off his short-game talents and offers advice for those looking to improve their bunker play.

“Obviously I’ve defended tournaments before, but I’ve never come and defended a tournament of this magnitude,” he added. “Everything that happens for me this week is kind of new. But at the end of the day it’s just another golf tournament, it’s another major.

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“Obviously there’s going to be high pressure at certain stages, but you want to go out there and do as best you can. I’ve got a lot more on my mind, a lot more to play for than just defending the trophy. It’s a bit of everything.

“To be announced on the first tee as defending champion, I’ll be happy to get that tee shot away, and if you’ve seen the rough down the first hole, I’ll be happy if it’s on the fairway!

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“I’m kind of going into this week with an open mind. I’m really looking forward to the week ahead, and I’m looking forward to kind of playing in the Open Championship, because we did miss it last year. I’ve obviously got a few of those to play in over the next number of years, which is pretty cool, and like I said, I’m just looking forward to the whole week.”

The 149th Open has been hit by a number of withdrawals, mainly related to Covid-19 issues, and the players have been instructed to adhere to strict “bubble” protocols this week with regulations restricting them to no more than four members of their support team staying in the same accommodation.

They are also prohibited from visiting local shops, bars and restaurants, but Lowry is happy to abide by the rules rather than run the risk of having to play behind closed doors.

Shane Lowry image for GolfPass Shane Lowry image for GolfPass

“Obviously it’s not ideal, but that’s the world we live in at the minute,” Lowry said. “That’s the rules we have to abide by. If you test positive, you can’t play. That’s why the R&A have done a great job and they’re 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 us as players, I’m in my own bubble at my own house and I’m not leaving. I’m not allowed to do any of that stuff, and I think that’s good.

“I don’t want to be here playing in front of nobody, so I think it’s great that there’s 32,000 people, and I was very excited when I heard that there was going to be that many people here.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks, do we? Because if you had have told us last year that we’d still be sitting here, social distanced and wearing masks with not 100 per cent capacity, and living in a bubble, you kind of would have laughed at someone!”

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