Shane Lowry, roared on by a huge Irish contingent in the Vilamoura crowd, finally tasted victory as a professional with a thrilling one-shot win in the Portugal Masters.
The 25-year old, fed up being referred to as “the fella who won the Irish Open as an amateur”, bogeyed the last for a five under 66 but walked away €375,000 richer in his 98th pro start when Ross Fisher lipped out on the 18th with a five footer that would have forced a play-off on 14 under par.
“I cannot believe this,” Lowry said after coming from four shots behind Austrian Bernd Wiesberger in a windswept final round at the Oceanico Victoria Course.
“I can’t explain how I feel really. It’s a dream come true - I’m over the moon.
“Everyone was referring to me as the fella who won the Irish Open as an amateur, but now I’ve won such a prestigious event I don’t know what to say.”
He added: “Obviously winning in Baltray was special and it will never be forgotten but it’s almost like this is another monkey off my back now. To win on Tour, to be a two-time winner on Tour when you’re 25, hopefully I’ve got a long career ahead of me and I can get plenty more.”
Dressed in black and white as a tribute to his home town GAA club, Lowry quickly forgot Clara’s 0-15 to 1-6 defeat to Rhode in yesterday’s Offaly Senior Football Championship final in Tullamore as he gave free reign to his natural talent on the sunny algarve.
The midlander truly came of age in Portugal and believes he is now a far better player than the 22-year old amateur who shocked the world with that unforgettable, rain-soaked Irish Open win in his first European Tour start.
“I think my golf game is a hundred times better than it was back then,” he said. “I feel like I have not fulfilled my potential yet and this is a step to fulfilling my potential and to where I can really go in the world of golf.
“If you ask me what my game was like in Baltray and what my game was like today, it’s probably different. I won in Baltray and everything went right for me and everything went right for me today but my golf is a lot better and I’m a lot more comfortable and feel like I belong on the Tour.”
Whatever about Lowry’s enormous potential, his brilliant back nine display bodes well for his trip to the First Stage of the PGA Tour Q-School, providing he eventually decides to take that plane next Thursday.
“I’ll have to see first of all where my World Ranking is after today and what tournaments this will get me in for the rest of the year. I’ll have to sit down with [manager] Conor [Ridge] during the week. Probably still will. We’ll see from there.”
After going out in one under by following a three-putt bogey at the first with birdies at the second and par-five fifth, he moved into top gear when he birdied the 10th and then grabbed a share of the lead in spectacular fashion by holing seven-iron from 138 yards for an eagle two at the 11th to a massive roar from the Irish contingent
“I went out there today knowing I had a chance to win and nothing really went for me on the front nine,” Lowry said. “You know, I holed that seven-iron on the 11 and all of the sudden thought this could be it.
“It was a very difficult shot. Played 138 yards and it was strong wind off the left which is not really what I like, hit a little seven-iron, straight at the flag and the crowd told the rest of the story.”
Wiesberger got the better of Lowry in the Lyoness Open in July, where the Offaly man had to settle for a share of second.
But the big Austrian bogeyed the 11th by pulling his tee shot into the water and while he birdied the 12th, he was plainly out of sorts and eventually bogeyed the last two holes for a 73, allowing a resurgent former US Open champion Michael Campbell to take solo third.
It fell to Lowry’s stablemate, 2010 Ryder Cup player Fisher to exert the pressure.
But while the 31-year old briefly wrested back the initiative when he birdied the 12th, 13th and 14th to lead on 15 under, the Englishman couldn’t birdie the 15th and then followed a bogey at the 16th with a disappointing par five at the 17th and a costly three-putt bogey from around 60 feet at the last.
Lowry, on the other hand, was impressive under the cosh as he kept his nerves in check to snatch a victory that will see him rise from 128th in the world to around 74th when the rankings are updated on Monday.
Despite failing to birdie the downwind, par-five 12th, he pitched stone dead for birdie at the short par-four 15th to join Fisher in a share of the lead and then took over at the top when he hit a career rescue through the back of the 17th and got up and down for birdie, punching the air when his five footer dropped to a huge roar from the Irish contingent in the crowd.
“The crowds were amazing,” Lowry said. “I knew there was a few guys from home down and a few of (my caddie) Dermot’s friends and so forth. The Irish support was brilliant this week.
Lowry became only the second player to win on the European Tour as both an amateur and a professional, joining Spaniard Pablo Martin, who won the 2007 Portuguese Open in his amateur days and then the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa two years later.
His 2009 Irish Open win came in incredible circumstances at County Louth, where he beat Robert Rock in a rain-sodden playoff but couldn’t pocket the €500,000 winner’s cheque.
Lowry’s 100 European Tour start will come in the WGC-HSBC Champions on his return from the first stage of the US Q-School in Florida.
While he still has to confirm that he will try for his US Tour card, it seems inevitable that he will give himself that chance after moving to 29th in the Race to Dubai standings with earnings this year of €727,943.
The easiest route to PGA Tour membership is breaking into the world’s Top 50 and then earning enough from starts in the majors and WGC’s to finish in the top 125 in the US money list.
As for the rest of the Irish, Padraig Harrington had 34 putts in a final round 71 to finish tied for 16th on six under.
While the statisticians say he was eighth for putts per round and eighth for putts per green in regulation, the Dubliner’s short putting arguably cost him the chance to contend for the title.
He hit 16 greens on the final day, a triumph on a day when the wind was gusting over 30mph, but made just three birdies.
Lowry, on the other hand, was first for putts per GIR and third for putts per round.
Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie shot 69’s to finish 37th and 49th respectively while Michael Hoey was 52nd after his 70.