A SENSATIONAL gun to tape victory propelled Shane Lowry into the upper echelons of world golf once again and could change his career trajectory as he recorded an absolutely stunning triumph at the Abu Dhabi Championship last weekend.
In a drama packed finale that had his many fans in Offaly and much further afield rooted to the edge of their seats, Lowry mounted an almost unbelievable comeback in the closing seven holes to wrestle victory from impending disaster.
Three shots ahead going into Saturday's final round and in control of his own fate, Lowry's worse nightmares unfolded as South African Richard Stern mounted a blistering front nine charge and he looked set for a soul destroying set back as he trailed by four shots after 11 holes.
For many people, it brought back painful memories of the Clara man's 2016 US Open collapse when he led by four shots going into the final round, only to lose his way and be overhauled by American Dustin Johnson. Over the last two years, Lowry never really recovered from that as he struggled to find his best game and he was bitterly disappointed to lose his US Tour card last season.
This win, however, changes everything and the manner in which it was achieved should banish any lingering cobwebs from three years ago. It moved him back into the world's top fifty in 41st place and if he can stay here, it will secure his place in all of the majors, most notably the US Masters next April as well as all the big World Golf Championship events.
That alone is the biggest windfall for Lowry from last weekend, even more significant than the €1.024.195 million pay cheque he collected and the manner of his victory, the character he showed in the face of adversity and the composure and calmness he displayed under pressure, especially when it looked like he would suffer a “defeat” that would have raised all sorts of questions for him, augur very well for his prospects this season.
It was the fourth win of his career (apart from his amateur days) and while he has won one of golf's biggest events, the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational in 2015, this was arguably his most important victory – it is ten years now since he won the Irish Open as an amateur back in 2009, turning professional days later while his first professional win was at the Portugese Open.
It came on the back of a turbulent couple of years. As he said himself, his off course life was very good as he became a husband and father but on the course, it was a period of self doubt and occasional trauma as he tried desperately to keep his star high. He contended in some tournaments and earned money that the vast majority can't even dream about but consistency was a big issue and there seemed to be as many bad days as good days. Of course that wasn't really the case but Lowry did not perform to his own high expectations.
Emotions ran high as his wife Wendy and young daughter Iris ran onto the green to celebrate with him as he sealed victory with a brilliant birdie four on the par five 18th after Sterne found trouble to with his second shot – Lowry's magnificent three wood found the middle of the green and a routine two putt a few minutes later as his opponent failed to get up and down for victory sealed a victory that had looked very unlikely two hours earlier.
It made for nail biting viewing, absolutely dramatic and he played some great golf under intense pressure as Sterne seemed to become defensive, failing to attack pins in the vein that had saw him stage an almost unreal seven shot swing in the first eleven holes.
The win was just so important, so significant for Lowry. Abu Dhabi was the first event on the European Tour calendar this year and it was the first time it was one of the tour's blue ribband Rolex Series events.
As it unravelled for him in the front nine in Saturday's closing round – Sterne turned in 31 shots with Lowry having 36 -, he continued to try and do the right thing, continued to attack flags, to hold back when that was the right thing to do and it all yielded a spectacular dividend as he won on -18, one shot ahead of Sterne.
Continued on page 58.