SÉAMUS POWER overtook Shane Lowry and moved up two spots to 47th in the world rankings despite his final round reverse in The American Express in California.
he West Waterford man (34) edged closer to that coveted Masters debut in April when he tied for 14th behind Hudson Swafford at La Quinta’s Stadium Course following a rollercoaster 74.
Just 11 hours after Lowry opened with a triple-bogey seven in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and shot 77 to finish tied 12th with Rory McIlroy, five strokes behind winner Thomas Pieters, Power saw his hopes of a second PGA TOUR win dashed in the opening holes in Palm Springs.
Just two strokes off the lead heading into Sunday's final round, he double-bogeyed the first after a wild drive forced him to reload, bogeyed the second after a bunkered tee shot and then double-bogeyed the 231-yard sixth after a visit to water to slip to five-over-par.
But having played his previous 198 holes in 55-under-par, he did not let his bad start faze him and birdied four of the next six holes to clamber back in the top 20.
A bogey at the 15th followed by three closing pars saw him sign for a two-over 74, his worst score for three months.
But he still tied for 14th on 14-under par — his third consecutive top 15 finish to start the new year — and picked up $119,700 to take his winnings for the 2022-23 season to $1,351,142.
He also moved up two places to 12th in the FedEx Cup standings, leaving him as the leading Irish player, three places ahead of world number eight Rory McIlroy (15th) after recording seven top-25 finishes in his first nine starts this season.
More importantly for his hopes of making his Masters debut in April, he rose two spots in the world rankings to 47th, overtaking former Irish amateur teammate Lowry, who dropped one place to 49th. Power must either win an event offer 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner or remain inside the top 50 in the world until March 28 to clinch his Masters debut alongside McIlroy, Lowry and Pádraig Harrington from April 7-10.
He certainly appears well-placed to make that first official trip down Magnolia Lane given his now elite PGA TOUR schedule.
He will skip this week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines to rest at his Las Vegas base, then return to play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational at Riviera before returning home to Waterford for a week's break.
After that, he will have further chances to improve his ranking as he plays high profile events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the Players Championship and the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin before the Masters field is set.
The American Express title went to Floridian Hudson Swafford (34), who was playing alongside Power and Harry Higgs and closed with an eight-under-par 64 to win his third PGA TOUR title by two strokes from Tom Hoge (68) on 23-under par.
Tied for fifth overnight, a shot behind Power and three strokes behind leaders Lee Hodges and Paul Barjon, 2017 champion Swafford started with a bogey but then birdied the second, fifth, sixth and eighth to turn in 33.
He was two strokes behind Hodges heading down the back nine but scorched home in 31 to Hodges' 36 to win the event for the second time.
The Tallahassee native birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th, then sandwiched another birdie at the 14th between bogeys at the 13th and 15th before finishing eagle-birdie-par.
He was tied for the lead with Brian Harman and Francesco Molinari at 20 under heading down the stretch but pulled ahead with the eagle from eight feet at the 16th, then knocked in a 20-foot birdie putt on the island green 17th before making a clutch eight-footer at the last.
"This was definitely a special one, a third win, and about a month ago, my father passed away and his birthday was this week, so I know he was following and watching and to get it done, it was awesome," Swafford said.
"He hadn't really watched me since I think 2017 Masters. I think it was the last time he came out and followed me around on the golf course… So to get a W while he's pushing me from above, it's so special.”