Upset in Arizona: Shane Lowry knocks out old friend Rory McIlroy
Published 22/02/2013 | 06:56
SHANE LOWRY pulled off a stunning all-Ireland victory in the desert to rival his dad Brendan’s Croke Park win with Offaly back in 1982.
And Lowry Junior’s finishing against World No 1 Rory McIlroy at the Accenture Match Play Championship was even more spectacular than Seamus Darby’s famous match-clincher against Kerry.
Lowry recovered from a nervous start in his fascinating first round match with his good friend McIlroy to win 1-up after playing a superb shot out of an uncertain stance and lie in a greenside bunker at 18 and then sinking the threefoot match-clinching putt.
The 25-year-old seized the advantage in this match of a lifetime with three flashes of genius of which the Holywood star would have been proud.
Lowry trailed his vaunted friend by two after four holes and still lay one behind through nine, but then squared the match with a glorious chip-in birdie at 11.
Famous among his peers on Tour for his deft touch around the green, Lowry holed out brilliantly once again with his wedge from behind the green at 12 for a birdie two to go one ahead.
He then stretched his advantage with a fantastic eagle three at 13 to put himself within touching distance of a victory few outside of Co Offaly believed he could achieve.
McIlroy once again struggled for consistency with his new Nike clubs and putter and, after Lowry missed a makeable par-saving putt at 14, the Holywood star, already three-over-par for his round, hooked his tee shot into an impossible lie at 15.
Two behind again, McIlroy made a gutsy winning birdie at 16 and a nice par save for half at 17 to send the match down the last.
Yet Lowry, showing the same spirit which helped him win the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, would not be denied, even when he drove into a bunker at 18 and then found sand again by the green.
Typically of McIlroy’s performance yesterday, he followed Lowry into that trap and his fate effectively was sealed.
It may snow in the desert, but some things never change… like the true grit which helped Major Champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell turn their All-Ireland battle on Dove Mountain into a thundering war of attrition.
McDowell prevailed (2-up) as a rivetting battle came to an anti-climactic conclusion when Harrington drove into a near-impossible lie in the desert at the last… but the action which had gone before warmed the cockles on a bitterly cold day.
Early on Harrington, playing poorly, was three down and, it seemed, wriggling on a pin after gifting the 10th hole to the Portrush man with a wayward drive into an unplayable lie.
Yet in the weird and wonderful way of match play, this game seemed to turn at the next when Harrington made par from the bushes and McDowell missed a short putt for a winning birdie which might have broken his opponent.
As McDowell bristled, the Dubliner suddenly had a whiff of hope in his nostrils and boy did he respond, winning the next in par and then squaring the match with a couple of fantastic birdies.
Both Irish golfers made a couple of clutch putts to halve the short par four 15th in birdie before Harrington handed back the advantage as he failed to get up-and-down at 16.
Though he extended the game with a big par-saver at the next, Harrington paid the ultimate price for his wayward driving at the final hole. He has failed to make it beyond the first round in his four outings at the Ritz-Carlton Club..
McDowell now faces talented Swede Alexander Noren, who played some phenomenal golf and had six birdies on his card as he demolished US Ryder Cup ace Dustin Johnson 6 and 4.
Harrington and McIlroy weren't the only big name exits, as Tiger Woods also fell by the wayside.
The former world number 1 was beaten 2&1 by fellow American Charles Howell in a first round still to be completed following Wednesday's snow. However, Woods at least has the comfort of knowing he has already won a title this year.
Aussie, Jason Day, who was a staggering four-under par for the 10 holes he played in the worst of Wednesday’s weather, completed his astonishing 6 and 5 rout of US Ryder Cup stalwart Zach Johnson with a birdie at 13.
Big-hitting Belgian Nicholas Colsaerts showed just how hard it’ll be to beat him on this course with a 5 and 4 romp against Bill Haas, still wobbly after last Sunday’s final round collapse at Riviera.
Defending champion Hunter Mahan made surprisingly easy work of Matteo Manassero, beating the young Italian 4 and 3, the fact that the American was, give or take, four over for the holes played says it all about this game.