Casey rolls back into form to get some satisfaction
Englishman ends long trophy drought with eagle finish as Lowry restores home prideat Carton House
GREAT winner, cracking climax, decent atmosphere ... fears that Irish Opens at Carton House may be hexed were obliterated as Paul Casey sealed victory with an unforgettable eagle on the 72nd hole.
The roars rose like rolling thunder as Casey's final putt from 60-plus feet closed in on the hole.
They reached a crescendo as the ball disappeared into the cup and, amid the tumult, the 35-year-old Englishman punched the air, strutted and hollered, not unlike Mick Jagger at Glastonbury.
After 29 injury-wracked and crisis-torn months in which he couldn't get no satisfaction, former world No 3 Casey at last clinched his 12th European Tour win and 14th as a professional.
"Psychologically, this is huge for me," he said of a win which propelled him from 169th back into the world's top-100.
"It almost feels like I'm winning for the first time once again. I've struggled with confidence so it is a massive relief to know I'm moving in the right direction and that I've got great golf in me for another 10 years."
Casey has not played Ryder Cup since clinching Europe's 2006 victory with a wonderful hole-in-one at The K Club's 14th hole.
Yet he once again walked with a swagger yesterday through gusting winds and a squall of near-biblical proportions as he compiled an exceptional closing 66.
Carton House resident Shane Lowry, painting it black after the angst-ridden 74 on Saturday that put paid to hopes of a home winner, and Lurgan native Gareth Shaw were prominent among just seven players who broke 70 on this day of attrition.
Lowry and Shaw also brought the packed gallery at 18 to their feet with sweet birdies as three-under-par rounds of 69 lifted them into a five-way share of fifth on eight-under with, among others, 2012 Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
A cheque for €61,920, more than he's earned in five years on the Challenge Tour, plus an invitation to next week's French Open, are of huge significance to Shaw, who showed his class by recovering from two opening bogeys to land three birdies plus a memorable eagle at 13, the driveable par-four where he holed a 40-foot putt.
Dubliner Peter Lawrie also gave those fans at 18 something to cheer about and put a gloss on his tournament as he closed with birdie for a 71 and share of 10th place, worth €34,800.
Though Clara man Lowry (26) has already won twice on Tour, including a sensational victory as an amateur at the 2009 Irish Open, his efforts over seven days as 'tournament host' at Carton were Herculean.
Especially when all four of Ireland's Major champions – Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke – missed the cut, leaving Lowry, tied third and just two off the lead after 36 holes, to carry alone the heavy burden of a nation's hopes.
This responsibility weighed down on him in the third round, leading to one of the worst days of his career.
"Saturday's the most frustrated I've ever been," he admitted. "I just got in my own way but when I'm in that position again, I'm sure I'll handle it better."
Still, Lowry insisted he'll treasure a week at Carton "made special by the crowds. They've been brilliant ... I owe a lot to every single one of them.
"I'm very thankful for what we have here in Ireland," he added.
"The support is amazing and it's great to have such a massive tournament in our little country."
Given the failure of Ireland's big-four to make the weekend, attendances of 20,547 on Saturday and 24,173 yesterday were very respectable.
Though the figure of 81,379 for the four tournament days at Carton paled alongside the all-time European Tour high of 112,280 in Royal Portrush, last summer's event on Antrim's Causeway Coast was as much a social phenomenon as a sporting event.
Lowry relishes the possible return of the 2014 Irish Open to Carton. "I'd love it to be back here. I think it'd be a great tournament on the O'Meara Course, I really do.
"The Monty's great but if the O'Meara is set up properly, it'd be a superb tournament course," he added, paying special tribute to Carton's equivalent of Augusta's Amen Corner.
"The atmosphere at 14, 15 and 16 would be unbelievable, the way the roars would echo through those trees."
McIlroy, McDowell and Harrington were highly-visible over the weekend at Carton as they worked hard on the range or at the practice facility at the GUI Academy.
World No 2 McIlroy also put in several hours on the practice green. Finding a Nike driver and putter to suit him are the most pressing technical issues he faces before next month's British Open. McIlroy admitted to scheduling errors this season, saying: "If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning, I guess. I've made a lot of mistakes but I'll learn from them and move on."
Casey, who leapt to world No 3 in 2009 after winning that year's Abu Dhabi Championship, Houston Open and BMW PGA, is thrilled at being able to move on after years of pain, physical and personal.
Rocked by the break-up of his marriage two summers ago, a long-term shoulder injury sustained when snowboarding in Colorado that Christmas and a painful toe cartilage problem which manifested last season and persists to this day, Casey's last victory on Tour was at the 2011 Volvo Champions in Bahrain. He admitted wondering whether he'd ever regain the swing which made him a world star ... but banished any doubts with his superb final round yesterday.
Casey spreadeagled the field with a brilliant burst of four birdies around the turn yesterday and a fifth in six holes at 13 on his way to a three-strokes victory over Dutchman Joost Luiten (74) and Robert Rock (71) as he brought another weather-hit Irish Open at Carton to a sunny conclusion.