Lowry: I now know I'm good enough to win Major titles
SHANE LOWRY showed his class and gave delighted caddie Dermot Byrne fleeting pause for thought when he holed out brilliantly from off the green for a glorious eagle at Muirfield's par-five ninth hole yesterday.
Blessed with the touch of a grand master around the green, this was Lowry's 10th chip-in of the season.
Make just one more, and the Clara native will win a handsome wager struck with his good friend and faithful ally Byrne, who will have to cough-up for his man's end-of-year holiday.
Despite playing the front nine in three-under, Lowry's hopes of applying a spectacular finish to his second British Open faltered on a torturous stretch of three holes on the back nine which wrecked his championship.
In all, he conceded a staggering nine shots to par on 14, 15 and 16 at the Open, which makes his 33rd place finish on nine-over appear all the more poignant.
Lowry's approach to 14 was, in his own estimation, "my only bad shot of the day". It plugged in the face of a greenside bunker and, after splashing out, he three-putted for a double-bogey six.
He then rebounded from a bogey four at 16, where he missed a short putt for par, with a birdie at 17, followed by a par at the last for a one-under-par 70, which concluded another enriching week for Lowry in terms of experience.
The Offaly man, winner of the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009 and for the first time as a professional at the Portugal Masters last October, is on a more gentle ascent towards the sporting stratosphere than his former foursomes partner on the Irish amateur team, Rory McIlroy, a two-time Major-winner by age 23.
Lowry's expectations are kept in check by patience. "I'm only 26 and I need to play in as many Majors as I can.
"I think in two, three or four years' time, (I'll be) trying to compete and trying to win them," he said.
"Right now, I'm not going out there trying to compete, although if I do get myself into contention, I'll be delighted.
"I played the par-fives poorly all week; I certainly played 14, 15 and 16 very poorly and my putting was very, very poor, but I definitely learned I'm good enough.
"I normally love putting on links greens but I couldn't quite read them and lost a bit of confidence. I have to get that right because I'm going to Firestone next week and they're the fastest greens I've ever played on.
"I just have to believe in myself more and work on my putting and see what happens there and then at the PGA."
Though Muirfield was too tight to allow him enough opportunity to be aggressive and hit the driver off the tee, Lowry still "loves tough golf courses".
"When chipping is the key, I think I definitely have the game to compete in tournaments like the Open, where it's tough and it's a grind," he added.
Graeme McDowell, one of the pre-tournament favourites after three recent victories on the European Tour, was "disappointed not to have contended this weekend", explaining "my game was just a little bit off in most departments".
"I got a little bit of left going on which I need to eradicate from my game," revealed McDowell after signing for a closing 67 which dropped him into a share of 58th place on 12-over par.
"When I'm playing well, I don't hit the ball left, so I've got something to do about that," added the Portrush man, who heads straight for this week's RBC Canadian Open, followed in quick succession by Firestone, the PGA at Oak Hill, the FedEx Cup play-offs and then his wedding in September.
Though he's now had just one top-10 finish in 10 British Opens, McDowell insisted: "I'll be disappointed if I finish my career without giving myself a real good chance at one of these. I definitely think there is a Claret Jug in me somewhere. We'll keep working."
Darren Clarke didn't stop to share his thoughts after three dropped shots in his final six holes, culminating in a bogey-bogey conclusion, left him with a 72 and in a tie for 21st on seven-over.
Instead, Ireland's best finisher hopped into his car and headed straight for the ferry.