Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry Team Up for a Share of Early Zurich Classic Lead

The Ryder Cup teammates shot 11-under 61 in the better-ball format.
July 17, 2023; Hoylake, ENGLAND, GBR; Rory McIlroy (left) and Shane Lowry (right) smile on the
July 17, 2023; Hoylake, ENGLAND, GBR; Rory McIlroy (left) and Shane Lowry (right) smile on the / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy is playing the Zurich Classic of New Orleans for the first time, having accepted Shane Lowry’s offer to team up in the PGA Tour’s two-man team event.

So far, so good. 

The Ryder Cup teammates opened with an 11-under 61 in the better-ball format first round at TPC Louisiana, sharing the lead with the teams of Ryan Brehm/Mark Hubbard, Ben Kohles/Patton Kizzire and Aaron Rai/David Lipsky.

“You know that you sort of need to get off to a good start, and thankfully we did,” McIlroy said.. “We were 4 under through 4, which was really nice to see, and from there you've got some momentum and you're just trying to keep it going.

“But for the most part today, we kept both balls in play. We were having two looks basically on every hole at birdie, and that's the way you need to play better ball. Everyone thinks it's maybe a bit more gung ho than that, but as long as you have two balls in play off the tee, two balls on the green, I think you're always going to do pretty well in this format.”

Better ball is played in the first and third rounds, and alternate shot is played in the second and final rounds.

McIlroy and Lowry carried the team concept into their Thursday fits, each wearing a white hat, pink shirt and dark pants, and appeared to enjoy each other’s company just as much if not more than any other team.

“I definitely felt today I was less hard on myself than I've been in the last few weeks when I hit a couple of bad shots. It's nice to know you've got Rory McIlroy backing you up,” Lowry said. “But yeah, I definitely feel like there's a nice vibe out there with the two of us. We know each other's games so well. We play a lot of golf at home together, and we just know each other so well.”

McIlroy said he and Lowry are staying in downtown New Orleans for the week and are already sampling the city's famous cuisine. 

“We've ventured out a couple of times,” the Ulsterman said. “Yeah, it's a cool city, great food scene. … We did eat good last night.”

John Schwarb


John Schwarb is the senior golf editor for Sports Illustrated whose career has spanned more than 25 years covering sports. He’s been featured on,, The Golfers Journal and Tampa Bay Times. He’s also the author of The Little 500: The Story of the World's Greatest College Weekend. A member of the Golf Writers Association of America, John is based in Indianapolis.