Sunday 23 April 2017

Lowry blitz nets biggest payday

Karl MacGinty at Wentworth

LUKE DONALD won European golf's war of the world at Wentworth yesterday after Lee Westwood fell victim to a cruel fate in sudden death at Wentworth's controversial closing hole.

Donald soared past his fellow Englishman to the summit of the global game and clinched the biggest stroke- play victory of his career with a birdie on the first tie hole. Westwood's approach shot had landed with a little too much zip on the back of the green and somehow spun down a slope and into the water.

For the Irish, however, 18 was an infinitely happier place as Shane Lowry completed a stunning birdie-birdie-eagle finish to claim a share of fourth place on two-under par in the showpiece BMW PGA Championship.

Lowry (24), famous for winning the Irish Open as an amateur at Baltray two years ago, earned his biggest cheque as a professional, E191,100, crucially making sure of his European Tour card for 2012.

The Clara man soared to 31st in the Race to Dubai rankings with €292,431 banked this season, a remarkable effort considering his nightmare start to the season after breaking his wrist in a fall on last December's ice.

"That's definitely my card kept," grinned Lowry, whose Tour exemption for winning the Irish Open expires at the end of this year.

"Now that worry is out of the way, I can play free golf for the rest of the season and contend again.

"Considering the field and the golf course, it's been the best week of my career so far. I'm definitely a better player than I was 12 months ago and I feel I can become better every year.

"There is only one way to go if I keep working hard and that is up.

"I don't think I've ever played as good," he said of his 72-hole effort on a revamped West Course which offered Europe's finest an examination as stern as any they are likely to meet in the Majors.

Lowry hopes to get a chance to revisit the Major arena when he tees it up today at Walton Heath in qualifying for next month's US Open.

The four shots he picked up in the final three holes were worth a stunning €137,000. But Lowry's confidence and his stock also soared with the quality of his golf all week, especially yesterday as he shot 67, equalling the lowest round of the day.

After holing out from 10 feet for birdie at 16 and from six feet for another at 17, Lowry showed his class as he landed only the fourth eagle of the week on the last.

The key, Lowry said, was the new Cleveland three-wood he hit off the tee at 18 into mid-fairway and again from 247 yards to the back of the final green, where rolled gently down the slope to within 10 feet.

The thousands in the grandstand roared their approval as the young Irishman polished off the eagle putt before punching the air in elation.

Yet there were many other examples of Lowry's ability yesterday. Like the phenomenal 160 yards seven-iron he played from the hollow on the right of the seventh fairway to an elevated green. His view of a pin tucked tight to the back right was blocked by a large tree and even if the required cut-shot suited Lowry's usual left-to-right shape, it took rare class to hit his ball to six feet for birdie.

The most impressive weapon in Lowry's armoury, however, is his short game, which he used to dramatic effect on nine. After misjudging his approach, he was lucky when his ball held up a couple of feet short of the hazard to the back of that green.

Yet Lowry took full advantage, clipping an ingenious skip-and-run shot into the heart of the green, where his ball gently butted the foot of the pin, leaving a tap-in for par.

REGAIN

He might have struggled for confidence in his first three events after his return from injury in March, but the recent rise in Lowry's form graph suggests he should soon regain his rightful place inside the world's top 100.

Lowry was world No 223 before Wentworth, but his sights are set higher now.

"I played with Rory (McIlroy) yesterday and Edoardo Molinari today," he said. "I'm not going to say I'm as good as Rory, because he's a phenomenal talent and is in the world top 10. But when I'm on my game, I can compete with these guys. I just need to get more consistent."

McIlroy, whose finishing at Wentworth was not as sharp as his ball-striking, finished 24th (worth E44,100) on three-over par after closing with a 73.

Michael Hoey was one back in 31st (E34,537) after applying a birdie-birdie finish to his closing 69.

He attends Gareth Maybin's wedding in Belfast today, the groom adding just E11,250 to the trousseau in 60th following a fraught weekend in which he shot 83 and 73.

Like Hoey, Darren Clarke's confidence has been boosted by a recent Tour win but after an impressive start, the veteran tumbled to 45th (and E24,300) after yesterday's 75.

For all of Westwood's misfortune on 18, the tournament really turned at 16, where he made a clumsy bogey and Donald hit an exquisite iron to inches for birdie to tie the lead at six-under.

Westwood then missed decent birdie chances at 17 and 18, giving the super-consistent Donald the chance of only his second stroke-play victory since 2006 and his place on the top of the world.

Irish Independent

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