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PA Lowry is one of four Irishmen at Augusta this week.
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'Shane is a legitimate contender and Ireland can look forward to watching him compete'
On the eve of the first Major of the year, Paul McGinley believes Shane Lowry can rediscover his swagger at Augusta.

BY HIS OWN admission, Shane Lowry has recently found the weight of expectation a burden but Paul McGinley believes the Offaly man heads into this week’s Masters primed to challenge.

The 29-year-old’s dazzling win at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last August saw his reputation and world ranking spiral as he demonstrated his capacity to compete, and beat, the world’s best.

Lowry enjoyed a memorable twelve months as he conjured inspiring performances week-after-week and ultimately finished fifth in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings.

Victory at Firestone and a second-place finish at the British Masters catapulted the Irishman up to 19th in the world (currently 32nd) – but with such a standing comes an added level of expectation.

It’s been a mixed start to 2016 for Lowry and last week’s missed cut at the Houston Open wasn’t ideal preparation for his second appearance at Augusta National.

Just one top 10 finish – at the Phoenix Open in February – has resulted in a frustrating three months but McGinley insists Lowry has learned a great deal since Firestone and has matured as a golfer.

“It is difficult and when you are trying to be a top player in the world like Shane is there are doing to be a lot of challenges along the way, there are going to be a lot of bumps on the road,” McGinley said.

Bridgestone Invitational Golf AP / Press Association Images Winning in Firestone was a defining moment for Lowry. AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“You have got to learn how to deal with those and one of those is the idea of expectation. By his own admission he felt the expectation on his shoulders last year after his big win, even after his big performance going into the Open Championship he really felt that he was going to perform well and thought he had too much expectation on his shoulders.

“So he will have learnt from that and dealing with expectation is one of those things that Shane is going to have to find a way of dealing with if he is going to become the player that he wants to be.

“I don’t think there is any tournament in the world that would be over awing for him, he has got through that stage of playing in tournaments for the first time and knowing what he is coming back to, he has established himself on the world stage.”

While missing the cut in Texas was not part of the plan, it has allowed Lowry to spend more time in and around Augusta National and settle into the surroundings.

Last year’s debut appearance at the Masters will hold him in good stead – even though he failed to make the weekend – and  he’s been able to fit in a couple of practice rounds before Thursday.

Lowry will have a couple of new additions to his bag this week, too. His old TaylorMade driver, which had served him so well, recently broke and he’s made the changeover to a new Srixon model for the last few days.

Whether he fires off the tee or not will determine how Lowry fares in Georgia but the reappearance of the Odyssey 2-Ball putter which was pivotal to his success at the WGC Bridgestone is also interesting.

Either way, McGinley believes Lowry is well placed to perform well at the first Major of the year.

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“I think we can all identify with what Shane is doing,” the former Ryder Cup captain continued.

“Ireland is full of places and clubs like Esker Hills and I think they feel very lucky to have Shane on a world stage now and be able to tune in now on a Sunday night and watch Shane compete on the PGA Tour as well as the European Tour.

“There will be a great excitement, as Irish people we are very proud of our sports people no matter what sport it is, the more we have out there contending the better, particularly when it is something like the Masters.

Honda Classic Golf Lynne Sladky It's been a mixed opening few months to the season. Lynne Sladky

“It will be great for Ireland and everybody now will have a great interest in how Shane does. He certainly plays the modern game in so far as he hits the ball a long way which you need to do in the modern game and he chips and putts incredibly well and on top of all that with that big win that he had in the world event at the end of last summer he is now very much established on the world stage.

“He is a legitimate contender and a legitimate guy that we can row in behind and look forward to watching compete.”

Sky Sports is showing all four Majors – including the Open for the first time – and the Ryder Cup during 2016, starting at the Masters 7-10 April.

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