- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - Shane Lowry had not thought much about the Irish Open until he saw the picture posted this week on Twitter.

The celebration was an Irish version of when Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open as an amateur at Brookline. Lowry was a 22-year-old amateur at County Louth in 2009 when he holed a 2-foot putt in a playoff to beat Robert Rock. He dropped the putter and raised his arms in one motion, bounced on his feet and thrust his arms forward. He rushed into the arms of his caddie as hundreds of fans _ parents, cousins, everyone _ swarmed him on the green.

The picture brought to mind a glorious day in his past _ and a daunting challenge in his immediate future.

In the middle of that wild scene was Rory McIlroy, brown curls spilling out from under his golf cap, shaking a bottle of champagne to douse Lowry.

“It was unbelievable,” McIlroy recalled Tuesday. “Amateur comes in, virtually unheard of, and plays great in the conditions, and the celebration at the end when he beat Robert Rock in the playoff was pretty special.”

Their past includes more than dreary afternoon in the rain at Baltray. They practically grew up together in Irish amateur golf, both the best in their respective age groups, and they were foursomes partners on the Irish team that won the European Team Championships in 2007.

The future is Wednesday at Dove Mountain.

McIlroy, already a two-time major champion at 23, is the No. 1 player in the world and the top seed in the Match Play Championship. Thanks to a peculiar series of events over the last two weeks, his opponent in the first round will be Lowry.

“Who would have thought a few years ago, playing in the European Team Championships at Western Gailes, that we’d be playing in the first round of the Match Play here in a few years’ time,” McIlroy said. “It’s pretty cool to think where we’ve come from.”

What makes this even more compelling is they are nothing alike.

McIlroy was groomed to be a star as a toddler. Lowry didn’t even start playing golf until he was 12, and didn’t realize he was any good until his late teens.

One of them is comfortable in the spotlight. The other feels at home with the boys in the pub.

McIlroy looks like an athlete. Lowry has a body built by Guinness.

Lowry was asked if there were any similarities between them, beyond their Irish roots. He thought long and hard before saying, “He plays golf.”

“I’ve always thought that Rory was going to be one of the best golfers _ if not the best golfer _ in the world at some stage,” said Lowry, two years older than McIlroy. “Growing up, he was always the best in his age group. I was always the best in age groups, as well. Did I think I’d be here playing against the world No. 1? I don’t know if I knew I was good enough to turn pro and compete. I didn’t know how good I was going to be. I still don’t know how good I’m going to be.

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