Shane Lowry realistic before Rory McIlroy duel at WGC Match Play

Rory McIlroy

Shane Lowry last week looked like being denied a WGC Match Play meeting with his long-time friend and former national team-mate, Rory McIlroy.

The subsequent vagaries of a world ranking change mean the duo will, indeed, now face off in the first round at Dove Mountain morning. In a draw which has thrown up a clutch of fascinating ties, Graeme McDowell versus Padraig Harrington among them, Lowry has the most to relish. For the first time, he will go head to head with McIlroy in a matchplay environment.

The 25-year-old from County Offaly played with McIlroy in generally successful Irish amateur teams, amid which the pair were occasional foursomes partners. Their off-course association has lingered beyond that, despite McIlroy's subsequent surge to the summit of world golf.

"I spoke to Rory on Sunday," Lowry said. "He was on the putting green; I was telling him to practise his short ones because he won't be getting many from me. It was just a bit of craic. We were texting a bit last week, too.

"I always thought Rory was going to do what's he's done. He was always in a different class, ahead of everyone when I was growing up. I've always seen him that way and it's still no different. I am going to have to be at my very best to beat him. The odds are stacked against me but I will give it a go."

McIlroy reached the final of this tournament, the first WGC event of the year, last year and displayed his matchplay credentials again when defeating the on-form Keegan Bradley in October's Ryder Cup match. McIlroy, like Lowry, has also won the matchplay West of Ireland Amateur Championship.

"He's not bad, is he?" Lowry smiled. "Not bad at any form of golf. He's always been a 'go-for-it player' and I am sure he will be on Wednesday. I'm sure there will be lots of birdies in the match. That suits me.

"I have no fear of going at flags and taking the golf course on. I just have to try and enjoy it. I've been playing golf for the past 15 years and if someone had told me five or six years ago that I'd be going on in the World Match Play against the world No1, no matter who it is, I'd have said 'I'll take that.'"

Lowry's preparations for the Arizona event have been disrupted by the arrival of his clubs which came on Monday, 48 hours after the Irishman himself landed in this part of the United States. "It seems they never made it out of Dublin, which wasn't ideal."

Still, he disputes the notion that every iota of pressure is on McIlroy. "I have pressure on myself, too," Lowry said. "I don't want to go out and make a show of myself. I still want to go out there and do well. It will be a bit nerve-racking but I know Rory well. There is not the same intimidation factor that there would be playing Tiger Woods, let's say.

"Listen – Rory's the best golfer in the world. It's hard to get an edge on him. I just have to go out and make as many birdies as I can and see where I am on Wednesday afternoon. It's obviously going to be very difficult, he's a great player and I will just do my best. I haven't played matchplay since 2009, so I am really looking forward to it."

Praise for Lowry has arrived from another member of the Dove Mountain field, Justin Rose. The Englishman also warned it could be unnecessarily bold to presume McIlroy will canter to a first-round victory.

"I have played a lot of golf with Shane in the last few months," Rose said. "I played with him in China and I was very impressed with how played. He hits the ball well and I have been really impressed with his putting – he seems to make a lot of putts from 10 feet and in.

"It is not an easy match for Rory. When it's world No1 versus world No64, it's almost a free pass. You're not expected to do anything, you can only be the hero.

"That's the thing about being the top seed, you're the one expected to win. That's why it is always dangerous to evaluate. If the top four seeds all advanced to the semi-finals here we would be in disbelief – it doesn't happen."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray in Tucson, for The Guardian on Monday 18th February 2013 22.00 Europe/London

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