Shane Lowry lost none of his good humour despite ending his breakout season with a 75 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
As Australian Marc Leishman cruised to a brilliant victory with an impressive five under par 67, Lowry mixed four birdies with three bogeys and two double bogeys in a three over effort to tie for 25th on two over par.
That left him 21 shots adrift of 32-year old Leishman, who had a trying year of lows beginning with the illness to his wife that forced him to withdraw from the Masters, to the death of an uncle and his playoff defeat in The Open.
As the European Tour reported:
But, having taken a one shot lead into the last round at Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, he produced a wonderful back nine to hold off world No 7 Henrik Stenson and win by six strokes with a 19 under par total, afterwards saying the US$1.25million first prize will help pay for his new house in Australia.
Stenson, who was bed-bound with a virus in the build-up to the event, closed with a level par 72, while Englishman Chris Wood rose into third place with a 68.
Despite his poor end to the year, Lowry took to Twitter to express his satisfaction with his rise to world No 21 and his maiden PGA Tour win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron in August.
That's 2015 done and dusted. Thanks to everyone for your support. What a year it's been. Buzzing to get home for Xmas 🎄🎄🎄😊😊😊— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) December 6, 2015
He'll leave Sun City €100,592 richer and can reflect with satisfaction on a year that saw him win €2,804,210 in European Tour events and another $267,200 (€245,859) in the US for a career high of €3,050,069.
His performances in the majors where ultimately disappointing as his share of ninth place behind Jordan Spieth in the US Open was his only success.
Missing the cut by one stroke in the other three majors was all down to experience.
At the Masters, he would have made the weekend had the wind not dropped on Friday afternoon while his failure at The Open was all down to high expectations on foot of an impressive performance at Chambers Bay and two or three bad shots at the wrong time.
In the US PGA, he was simply recovering from his performance in Akron the previous week, where he showed that at his best, he’s a great competitor with a major-winning, world class game.
Establishing himself in the world’s Top 50 and winning his PGA Tour card with ease was hugely impressive and he’s clearly making strides with his fitness and mental game.
Still, he will be keen to improve and making the Ryder Cup team and the Olympics in Rio with a schedule that’s based on the PGA Tour won’t be easy.
Having reached the next level, Lowry knows there is another strata or two above him and working out how to close that gap won’t be easy, especially as he’s trying to follow up on the best season of his career.
With Stenson failing to win this year and remaining majorless Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Branden Grace (to name just six), Lowry has a lot of competition without even looking at the nine major winners that are ahead of him in the world rankings.
The EurAsia Cup will be his first stop of 2016 and from there he’s in the USA until May’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at The K Club.
“Golf’s a lot easier when you don't have to make up lost ground, especially on this golf course where there's trouble everywhere. I was really happy to not have too many bogeys. I definitely found out where the trouble was in the practice round.
“I knew it was going to be a really tough day, I knew I had to play well. Henrik is an awesome player and I knew he’d make me earn it, which he did. I'm really pleased that I could play as well as I did and have a little bit of a buffer there at the end.
“I’m pretty happy to have this year over, to be honest. Audrey got very sick and I lost an uncle who I was very close to. This tops off what was otherwise not a great year. Three weeks ago we moved into a new house, so this will help pay for that.”
“I’ll take it, looking at the bigger picture. With the chances I’ve had this year, to be winless is a little disappointing but all in all it’s been a solid year and I’ve got to look at the good results I made and the amount of world ranking points and all the rest of it. Of course I’d like to be holding the trophy, and I had a nice chance here. Obviously dropping a few coming in yesterday made it harder. It’s always harder to make those up on a Sunday – I would rather have been one ahead than one behind going into the last round.
“Marc played really solidly and shot five under on a tricky day. I didn’t start off that great, came back a little in the middle of the round and needed something spectacular towards the end, and I couldn’t do that. All credit to him for the win – he’s a deserving champion."
“It’s hard to believe at the moment. On Tuesday night I was on a drip for 13 hours and there was no chance of me playing, given the way I felt. I was wheeled through the hotel in a wheelchair and tucked into bed by three men – two doctors and a guy from the hotel. I was in a bad way. So whatever the result was I was just glad to be playing, so to finish third is amazing.
“The heat just got me on Sunday on Monday and I had to pull out of the pro-am on Tuesday and then didn’t hit a shot until Thursday. I was pretty weak but the doctors have been monitoring me each day and I managed to complete four rounds which I never thought I would.
“I’ve enjoyed the whole week. It’s an incentive to start our year here and gives you a good step forward going into 2016, and especially with this being a Ryder Cup year. Probably for the last ten years Danny (Willett) and I have followed similar paths and we always push each other on. Seeing him win last year when I had a cast on my broken wrist was a massive incentive to work hard and get back stronger.”
269 M Leishman (Aus) 68 68 66 67,
275 H Stenson (Swe) 66 67 70 72,
279 C Wood (Eng) 70 71 70 68,
280 R Streb (USA) 69 66 72 73, D Willett (Eng) 67 75 70 68, B Grace (RSA) 68 74 67 71, V Dubuisson (Fra) 71 73 68 68,
281 B An (Kor) 72 70 71 68,
282 C Schwartzel (RSA) 71 74 67 70, T Jaidee (Tha) 70 72 69 71,
283 E Grillo (Arg) 72 69 73 69, L Oosthuizen (RSA) 70 72 68 73,
284 J Van Zyl (RSA) 66 68 72 78, T Aiken (RSA) 73 69 72 70,
285 R Fisher (Eng) 69 71 73 72,
286 A Sullivan (Eng) 71 71 70 74, M Fitzpatrick (Eng) 69 77 68 72, K Bradley (USA) 72 69 73 72, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 70 68 73 75,
287 S Piercy (USA) 73 68 72 74,
288 T Fleetwood (Eng) 71 72 73 72, M Jimenez (Esp) 70 72 75 71, W Simpson (USA) 75 72 72 69,
289 R Knox (Sco) 69 76 68 76,
290 M Kaymer (Ger) 75 71 72 72, B Wiesberger (Aut) 70 71 68 81, Shane Lowry (Irl) 74 71 70 75,
300 L Westwood (Eng) 72 81 72 75,
305 S Kjeldsen (Den) 74 81 77 73,
307 S Bowditch (Aus) 77 78 77 75.