Lowry's prayers answered as he breaks Top 50 hoodoo

It was almost fitting that a silent prayer — or possibly something more profane — flashed through Shane Lowry’s mind as his drive leaked unerringly towards the rocky stream that wends its way up the middle of the 18th fairway on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

He’d meant to blast it down the left and make a par or birdie to secure the top 13 finish he needed to break into the world’s Top 50 after two years of carrying that burden like an albatross around his neck.

Whatever he was thinking — "You don’t want to know!” was his grinning reply to the enquiry — fate intervened and his Srixon bounded off a rock in the stream and caromed up the right side of the fairway, leaving him a five-wood to the green.

"How lucky did I get there,” a relieved Lowry said. "I carved it up the right, it hit a rock in the hazard and bounced onto the fairway about 40 yards up from where I should have been. But I got so much bad luck at the start of the year, I feel I was due a bit of good luck.”

The 27-year old rifled his approach to 45 feet and two putted for birdie and a six under 66 that gave him solo fifth place in the DP World Tour Championship behind Henrik Stenson, a €379,318 pay day and enough world rankings points to guarantee his rise to 47th in the world today, guaranteeing him a trip down Magnolia Lane and a Masters debut next April.

Rory McIlroy shot a bogey free 68 to finish two shots behind Stenson (70) in a tie for second with Justin Rose and Victor Dubuisson on 14 under par and predicted that Lowry will do well at Augusta.

"You need a reasonably sharp short game and that's really what his game is based on," said McIlroy, who was left to lament back to back double bogeys on Saturday. "He's a great wedge player and putter, so he'll do well around there I would think. 

"I remember when I got into the Top 50, it's a great feeling, it really is. You get to pick and choose your schedule a little bit more. He's got the freedom to pick and choose where he wants to play which is great. Yeah, pleased for him. It's a great place to be."

In the two years that have passed since he first caressed the top 50 with his second tour win in the Portugal Masters, Lowry has found it an almost insuperable barrier.

He missed the chance to play Dubai in 2012, falling ill with shingles. And after finishing with a bogey six here on Saturday, he confessed that his anxiousness to banish the Top-50 curse had become an obsession. He simply had to put behind him and "man up.”

He did it in style in the end too, finishing just three strokes behind Stenson on 13 under par to win €258,264 ($320,000) and an added €121,055 ($150,000) from the Bonus Pool for finishing 10th in the final Race to Dubai standings with a career best haul of €1,880,856 from his 27 starts.

"We talked about it in depth yesterday evening,” Lowry said of his overnight chat with his coach, Neil Manchip about clinching his Masters invitation by December 31 rather than having it hanging over him at the start of next season. 

"I said I don’t want to be going into Abu Dhabi at the start of the year with all this hanging over my head again. I feel like it's been on top of me for the last two years. It’s pressure I put on myself more than anything else. It gets quite stressful and that’s what I’ve been feeling of late.

"To go out there and shoot 66 with a decent bit of pressure on me was nice. It’s satisfying to do something like that, to shoot a score when you need to.”

Lowry could end the year inside the top 30 in the world if he wins the opening event of the 2015 European Tour season, the limited field Nedbank Golf Challenge, in Sun City in South Africa next week.

"I definitely think I can kick on from here now and that’s what I’ll be looking to do,” he said of his liberation. "I missed a lot of drives this week but my iron play was second to none. I hit a lot of lovely five and six-irons in close to give myself chances. Then when I got my scoring clubs in, I was pretty good with them.”

His play in the final round was sublime with birdies at the first, second and seventh setting him on his way.

While he bogeyed the ninth, he birdied the 10th from 10 feet, the 13th from 30 feet and the 15th from 15 feet before almost acing the par-three 17th.

He missed the four foot birdie putt and confessed later that he was thinking of winning the tournament at that stage.

"I was thinking knock this in and eagle the last and I’ll have to wait around for a little while,” he said. "But when my tee shot was in the air on 18, I was praying that it wouldn’t go in the water and it didn’t. I got a bit of luck I feel like I deserved.”

As for the trip to Augusta, he said: "I’m just excited to get there. It’ll be nice. At the end of the day it is only one tournament and I’m not playing next season just for Augusta. Hopefully that’ll get me into [the WGC Cadillac Championship] in Doral as well and hopefully I’ll be able to stay there and be in the World Match Play. I’ve got a lot of big tournaments now to be able to focus on.

"It’s just something that when you’re in the top-50 in the world, you’re able to plan your schedule at the start of the year really nicely and, hopefully, that’s what I’ll be able to do.”

"I’m looking forward to getting to Augusta and seeing what it’s like. I’ll go and try and play well. I feel I can compete in those type of fields. People have this myth that you need to play Augusta a few times to compete there to do well in the Masters but I’ll try and put that right next year.

"The Top 50 has been hanging over my head for the last couple of years. It’s where I want to be in the world of golf. You can pick and choose most of your events. The reason I want to be there is to compete against the best players and beat them. That’s why I want to be there.”

His happiness on Sunday contrasted with his disappointment on successive Saturdays. In Dubai, he made bogeys on two of the par-fives on the back nine and needed time to cool down.

"To be honest I didn’t really enjoy myself out there today and that’s the way I am feeling I am playing my golf over the last few weeks," he said, conscious that he might sound spoilt. "It is hard for people at home to sit and read that and think that I have probably got one of the best jobs in the world.

"But at the end of the day I am out there trying my best and when it doesn’t come off I am quite hard on myself. It’s something I need to get out of. But I can’t. The harder you try, the harder it is. I think time off is the only thing that I need. I have a nice week here and then I will go down to Sun City and try and win there."

As it turned out, he will head for Sun City on Sunday or Monday with the world at his feet and that Masters invitation set to land with the rest of the Christmas cards.