Horizon Irish Open - Day One
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Shane Lowry's spot as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup in Rome three weeks from now was never really up in the air, but it may have seemed that way in retrospect. After captain Luke Donald made Lowry one of the six picks, many European fans questioned whether Adrian Meronk -- who won the Italian Open earlier this year at Marco Simone Golf Club, where the Ryder Cup will be played -- should have been selected instead.

Lowry has struggled, after all, at least by his standards. He does not have a top 10 anywhere in the world since February, although he does have five top 20s in his last nine events, and he has been the second-worst European on the team over the last three months from a strokes-gained standpoint. Still, he brings a Justin Thomas-like set of intangibles to the table that will be invaluable for a European squad looking to rebound from a 19-9 blowout at Whistling Straits in 2021.

"There's no doubt that Shane is a big-time player who likes the big occasions, the majors," Padraig Harrington, Lowry's captain in 2021, said this week. "At the Ryder Cup he was very, very comfortable. Wasn't like a rookie at all in the sense he just knows the bigger, pressure-filled occasions.

"It's strange seeing some of the part-time people who aren't in the know saying maybe somebody else should have gotten picked, and they might have named Shane," Harrington continued. "I'm going, 'It's not even close.' Shane is, when it comes to ... if we were playing a small tournament in the middle of nowhere, maybe Shane wouldn't be the right pick, but when it comes to the Ryder Cup, I definitely can trust in him.

"He is very good with the rest of the team. There's no doubt about it. He can partner up. He can play foursomes and four-ball. In order to play foursomes and four-ball, you need to be a good ball striker, and that's what Shane is. That versatility is very important for Luke, to have somebody who can play 12 sets. Sometimes you get stuck with a player -- sometimes players can be one-dimensional, but Shane is going to fit in very nicely and be able to play whatever is required."

He's also playing better golf -- or, at least he did on Thursday at the Irish Open at the K Club. Lowry shot a 4-under 68 in his first round out after being named to the team and trails leader Shubhankar Sharma by just three shots.

"Outside of major golf, it doesn't get much bigger or better [than the Irish Open]," said Lowry. "I would argue that the Ryder Cup is up there, anyway, with that. But yeah, here this week, half an hour, 40 minutes from where I grew up, playing in my home tournament and then I get to go to defend at Wentworth next week, and then I prepare the week after to play in The Ryder Cup. It's kind of what dreams are made of. When you're a kid growing up, this is what dreams are made of and I'm trying to embrace it as much as I can."

As for where the 68 came from, it's not that his golf has been putrid. As mentioned earlier, Lowry had a run of top 20s this summer but without getting close to winning. It's just that when you have a world-class player like Lowry, you expect him to contend, to rack up top 10s, to be more consistently be at the top of the board on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. 

Still, there's time to garner momentum going into Rome.

"I feel like I've not been far away," said Lowry. "Never felt like I was too far away this year. I'm happy I'm on the team and I feel like I can add a lot to the team and I feel like when it comes to Rome, I'll be ready."

A win, or something close to it, would go a long way at the K Club this week. Still, Lowry can hang his hat on this number following 18 holes in Ireland: None of his teammates, nor anyone who was presumed as a candidate to usurp him on the squad this year, shot lower than that 68 he posted on Thursday. Three more of those, and there won't be any chatter left about who deserved it more. But even if he doesn't break 70 again the rest of the week, it's unquestionable that Donald made the right call.