Wednesday 20 February 2019

Lowry holds his nerve to grind out desert victory

Shane Lowry: ‘To be honest, I didn’t think I had this in me.’ Photo: AP
Shane Lowry: ‘To be honest, I didn’t think I had this in me.’ Photo: AP

Dermot Gilleece

During a fitful Friday night as three-stroke leader of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi, Shane Lowry imagined heading in April for Augusta National and having his baby daughter, Iris, caddie for him in the pre-Masters pro-am. He is now set to make this a reality after a one-shot win over South Africa's Richard Sterne yesterday for top prize of €1.024m.

Cheered on by significant Irish support, it was a remarkable triumph for Offaly's finest, not least after being four strokes behind Sterne with only seven holes to play. From there, he rallied magnificently with birdies on the 12th and 13th; sank a 12-footer to save par on the 17th and then secured victory with a birdie on the last for a closing 71 and an 18-under-par aggregate of 270.

"I'm so happy," he said afterwards, his daughter in his arms. "To he honest, I didn't think I had this in me. I thought I was gone and my only focus was to put as much pressure on him [Sterne] as possible. It just shows what can happen if you keep doing what you believe to be the right thing."

His battle with Sterne was a duel of halves. At it happened, the South African turned a three-stroke overnight deficit into a three-stroke lead with a sparkling front nine of 31 against a struggling opponent. And he went further ahead when Lowry bogeyed the 11th.

From there, however, the superior quality of the Irishman's game overall became decisive. Noted as a gifted player who doesn't have an obvious weakness, Lowry displayed the sort of composure under pressure which characterised a memorable triumph in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in August 2015.

His other tournament successes were as an amateur winner of the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray and in the 2012 Portugal Masters.

A serious jolt to his development as a player, however, was a final-round collapse from a four-stroke lead in the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, where he was eventually tied second behind Dustin Johnson. "What I took from that day was to stay aggressive, keep playing my shots and try to make birdies," he said in Abu Dhabi. And it clearly worked.

After birdies had exerted serious back-nine pressure on Sterne, two hugely impressive strokes from Lowry on the homeward journey were a delicate pitch from off the right of the 17th, followed by a 12-foot putt for par. This kept him level going to the par-five last, where they both hit solid drives down the left centre.

From there, however, Sterne was badly wide of the green in two, whereas Lowry hit a majestic three-wood second of 280 yards, left-to-right into the heart of the putting surface.

He then eased the ball to within two feet of the target for a solid two-putt birdie, which the South African failed to match with a birdie effort of 25 feet.

"My target is to be on the plane with Paddy [Pádraig Harrington] for the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin next year," Lowry concluded, "and this gives me a great start."

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