Lowry's stock continues to rise
SHANE LOWRY will soar into the world's top 100 after the best finish of his fledgling career as a professional on the European Tour.
Lowry banked €75,000 for fourth place behind gifted German Martin Kaymer as the Abu Dhabi Championship came to a thrilling climax yesterday.
Rory McIlroy set Irish hearts racing as he roared back into contention on the closing holes of the National Course and was justifiably pleased to complete his opening event of 2010 in third place, the Holywood younger's ninth top-five finish in his last 10 starts.
McIlroy (20) and Lowry (22), who a few years back were foursomes partners on the Irish amateur team, brought an impressive week's work to a satisfying conclusion as they both compiled rounds of five-under-par 67.
Yet Lowry, who sensationally took the '3' Irish Open title back to Clara as an amateur last May, crossed an important watershed as he performed with the assurance and aplomb of a seasoned pro in the Arabian desert.
It's just eight months since he took his first faltering steps as a professional on the European Tour but, in Abu Dhabi, Lowry proved over four days that not only does he belong among golf's elite but also has the game to compete on a regular basis and win again.
"It's been a great week," he said, shortly after rolling home a splendid 25-foot putt on the last green for the fifth birdie of a flawless final round.
"That was a big putt on 18 and it's great to get into the habit of holing ones like that.
"I came out here for the start of my new year without any real expectations and I managed to find something at the start of the week -- a bit of confidence over the ball and my rhythm.
"It's been tough enough since I turned pro but I've had a couple of decent finishes and I managed to throw in a few low numbers towards the end of last year, which showed me I deserve to be out here.
"Except for a putt or two in Saturday's third round, I could have been right up there challenging the leaders, so I've showed again this week, I can compete on Tour."
This is not the biggest cheque Lowry's won. He earned €88,000 of the €319,555 he has banked since last May as he finished in a tie for third place with Swedish Ryder Cup star Robert Karlsson in the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix last November.
Yet, in terms of prestige and ranking points, making his presence so strongly felt over the weekend in a tournament featuring eight of the world's top 14 players is a massive fillip to Lowry as he looks forward to the weeks and months ahead.
While the new world rankings will not be unveiled until after today's final round of the Bob Hope in La Quinta, Lowry will leap 40 or so rungs up the ladder from 136th place to take his place among the game's top-100 players for the first time, leapfrogging Darren Clarke in the process.
His game was of that quality in Abu Dhabi. Lowry loves to drive the ball as often and as hard as McIlroy and it was a joy to watch him slamming it way down the fairways. Generally, his long game was excellent and it was a joy to see him so utterly relaxed in his swing.
Importantly, Lowry (pictured below) also putted well. Though it took about eight holes for him to get right into his stride yesterday, once he did, the birdies came at nine, 10 and 12.
He then went close at 12 and 13 before sinking a 25-foot raker at 16 and that similarly impressive effort at the last to finish on 17-under, four behind the winner and two shy of McIlroy.
If these two young men suggest a bright future for Ireland on the world's professional fairways, all Europe should be especially excited about Martin Kaymer (25), who underlined his world class on the final two holes yesterday as he wrapped up his fifth and probably most impressive victory on Tour.
He cannot drive like Michael Schumacher. If he could, he wouldn't have a titanium plate in his right foot, the painful consequence of the frightening go-kart crash in Arizona last August which sidelined the German for nearly three months.
Yet Kaymer showed he's as keen a competitor as his world-famous fellow countryman Schumacher, as he won the Abu Dhabi Championship for the second time in three years yesterday.
In the process, he saw off the valiant challenge of runner-up Ian Poulter and McIlroy with a final-round 66 that was founded as much on bloody-minded determination and inspired putting as polished golf.
This guy states few ambitions beyond winning a couple of times on the European Tour this season and making it onto Europe's team at next October's Ryder Cup. Yet he's got the game and the temperament to one day emulate his boyhood idol, Bernhard Langer, in the Major championship arena.
Kaymer's win lifts him to sixth in the world, while Poulter, who finished one shot behind the German after matching his final round 66, rises to a career-high 10th in the rankings, bumping McIlroy down to 11.
The young Ulsterman earned €93,900 in Abu Dhabi, while Peter Lawrie took €13,350 in a tie for 27th on nine-under after his closing 67. Clarke banked €4612 for a share of 56th place on three-under.
Supreme golf was expected from the final three-ball yesterday and that's precisely what overnight leader Kaymer and his closest rivals, Poulter and McIlroy, delivered.
Poulter, playing precisely and putting with trademark super-confidence, raced to four-under through six holes, in the process drawing level with overnight leader Kaymer, who managed 'just' three birdies in those spectacular opening exchanges.
McIlroy started poorly, hitting two of his first three shots into sand and cancelling out his birdie at the par-five second with an untidy bogey, from mid-fairway, at the fifth, where he chunked his chip from gnarly greenside rough.
Few would have given much for McIlroy's chances as he wallowed four off the pace on the tee at eight. Yet a nice birdie four there and two more at 10 and 12 indicated there was life in Ireland's young warhorse yet.
Though Kaymer's natural fade gives him a decided advantage on this course, which he's played in a whopping 56-under par on three visits to this Championship, Poulter really put it up to him as he completed his first 12 holes in six under.
Yet the German drew level once again when he clattered his ball out of rough to the left of the 14th fairway to 30-plus feet and sank the putt for birdie. Kaymer would then drop an even more significant putt, this time for par, at 17.
McIlroy, meanwhile, got within one stroke of the leading duo with splendid birdies at 15 and 17 but his chances expired when his drive landed in rough at the last, forcing him to lay-up at this par five.
Poulter also missed the fairway so Kaymer, whose superb final drive landed on the short grass, took full advantage, cracking a five-wood to 70 feet before two-putting for the victory-clinching birdie.