England has a new world No 1 in Luke Donad but Irish golf can look to the future with enthusiasm after Shane Lowry’s sensational birdie-birdie-eagle finish saw him grab the biggest cheque of his career in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
The burly 24-year old closed with a four under par 67 to share fourth place with Australian Marcus Fraser and Raphael Jacquelin on two under par and earn €191,100 - a whopping €82,000 more than his previous best reward for finishing seventh in last season’s Scottish Open at Loch Lomond.
Lowry said: “It’s the best week of my career so far, definitely, in this field on this golf course. I said to myself going out today that if I can finish under par for the tournament, I will definitely finish in the top 10 and earn a nice healthy cheque. I went and did that, albeit shooting four under for the last three holes.”
The Offaly star can now dismiss any vague worries he might have had about keeping his card after leaping to 37th in the Race to Dubai rankings with €292,431.
With his exemption for winning the 2009 Irish Open set to expire at the end of the season, he was aware that he needed to start putting some results on the board when he missed his first three cuts of the season following three months out with a fractured wrist.
Since then his progress has been both steady and spectacular with his last five finishes reading 61st, 13th, 11th, fifth and fourth.
And with the pressure off, he can look forward to challenging for titles and qualifying for majors, starting with Sectional Qualifying for the US Open at Walton Heath today.
With career earnings of €939,002 - remember he missed out on a cheque for €500,000 when he won the Irish Open as an amateur just 24 months ago - he can take his tally past the magical €1 million mark in the Saab Wales Open at Celtic Manor this week.
A career high of 79th following last year’s Open at St Andrews, Lowry’s brilliant long game and laser like wedge play makes him a potential Ryder Cup player of the future and a challenger for major honours.
Having made the cut with nothing to spare at Wentworth, he shot a 69 alongside Rory McIlroy on Saturday and then followed two birdies and two bogeys in his first 12 holes with a 3-4-3 finish that put a huge smile on his face.
“I’ve been playing great all week so I just went out there and I knew there was a great score in me,” Lowry said. “I struggled to get it going early in every round to get to going and I made a couple of bad mistakes early doors today. I suppose I knew I was playing well enough and I knew the last few holes were chances for me.
“I know if I hit decent tee shots they were wedge holes and my wedge game is good enough to give me chances. I played the last three holes absolutely perfect. I got a new three wood this week and it’s made me a few quid this week.
“I hit it off the tee on the last and had a perfect yardage. A right to left wind was ideal and I just said to [my caddie] Dermot [Byrne] that I might as well go for it. We talked about laying up but if you lay up it is a tough wedge shot in there. I said let’s go for it and hit a great shot in there and managed to hole the putt.”
Lowry worked on a swing change with his coach Neil Manchip at the end of last season, trying to take the club back squarer so that he wouldn’t have to make as many adjustments on the way back to the ball.
It’s worked wonders and believing he’s already a better player than he was 12 months ago, he’s ready to take his game to another level.
“I don’t think I have ever played as well and some people have commented on it as well,” he said. “So that’s definitely my card kept and that worry is out of the way and I can just play free golf now for the rest of the year and hopefully contend again some time.
“I am definitely a better player than I was 12 months ago and if I can become a better player every year there is only one way and that is up. Hopefully I keep improving and work hard and see what results happen.”
Lowry was the best of the Irish by five shots with Rory McIlroy disappointed with a 73 that left him tied for 24th on three over par.
The Ulsterman was six shots behind starting the day but all hopes of a final round charge were derailed by a double bogey six at the third.
“Tough week this week,” he said on Twitter. “Not what I was looking for but can take some good stuff from it going forward. Well done @Luke_Donald! Número uno!”
Michael Hoey birdied the two closing par fives for a 69 that gave him a tie for 31st on four over with Darren Clarke two shots futher back after a 75.
Gareth Maybin, who is set to marry today, followed his Saturday 83 with a 73 to share 62nd on 16 over.
As for Donald, the Englishman snatched the world No 1 ranking from Lee Westwood when he beat his Ryder Cup partner with a birdie at the first extra hole after they had tied on six under after rounds of 70 and 68 respectively.
Westwood led by two shots on seven under when he brilliantly birdied the 15th from four feet. But there was a two shot swing at the next that sent the tournament to a play-off as Westwood missed what proved to be a crucial six footer for birdie at the 72nd hole.
The Worksop man three putted the 16th and Donald birdied the hole in final group to tie things up before claiming the title and Westwood’s world No 1 ranking in sudden-death with a birdie at the the 18th.
Both men laid up on the dangerous final hole but while Donald hit his third to five feet, Westwood’s flew over the flag and then spun back into the water, leading to a double bogey seven.
Donald, who revealed his wife Diane is expecting their second child in November, said: “Looking back to the birth of my first child, Elle, my golf has only gone from strength-to-strength. It’s been a real blessing to become a father, it’s given me a lot more responsibility I think as a person. I’ve grown up - I’ve become a better person.
“My daughter is the best, she sleeps 12 hours every night. It’s nice to come home even when you finish second or don’t quite close out a tournament; when you’ve got her little face smiling back at me, you’re able to forget things pretty quickly. She really is an inspiration to me.”
Westwood said: “It’s amazing it went in the water, but it shouldn’t have gone into a play-off. I had a good chance at 17 going in with a three iron (pushed right) and on the last I just misread it.
“The finish was a bit iffy I suppose, so that’s the reason I finished second. Not because I lost the play-off - they are volatile - but because I didn’t take my chances.”