McDowell and Lowry run out of steam; O'Hair eagle key to QBE Shootout win

McDowell and Lowry run out of steam; O'Hair eagle key to QBE Shootout win
Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell

Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell

Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell had to settle for a Christmas bonus of $257,500 apiece after they ran out of steam and finished two shots behind Steve Stricker and Sean O'Hair in the QBE Shootout in Florida.

The Irish pair were bidding to become the first non-American team to win the season-ending team event since Australians Greg Norman and Steve Elkington in 1998.

But after surging two shots clear on 22-under thanks to four birdies in their first seven holes at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, they could make just two more birdies, closing with a six-under-par 66 to the Americans' 64 to finish second on 24-under par.

It was a disappointing end to a winless season for the Irish pair, who shot a super, eight-under-par 64 in greensomes on Saturday to go into the final day of fourballs tied for the lead with the eventual winners on 18-under par.

They got off to the fast start they wanted too, picking up birdies at the first, fourth and sixth to lead on 21-under.

Stricker and O'Hair refused to go away, however, and after matching McDowell's birdie at the seventh, they birdied the eighth and ninth share the lead on 22-under heading down the stretch.

Both teams missed chances at the 10th, McDowell's slick 10-footer hanging on the lip before O’Hair rolled in a seven-footer for birdie at the 11th to put the Americans one ahead.

After that it was a tale missed opportunities for the Irishmen — Lowry overborrowing from 20 feet at the 12th before McDowell under-read a 10-footer at the next, then tugged an eight-footer wide at the par-five 14th as Stricker (50) made no mistake from half that distance.

Now two adrift,  they kept their hopes alive when McDowell made up for his earlier misses by converting a clutch six-footer for birdie at the 15th to close the gap to just one.

But their title hopes ended at the par-five 17th when O'Hair followed a massive three-wood tee shot with a towering, 195-yard seven-iron approach to 12 feet and both McDowell and Lowry found greenside sand.

Lowry was up against the revetted face of the bunker and failed to get out at the first attempt and after McDowell missed a 10 footer for birdie, O’Hair delivered the coup de grace by converting for an eagle to put the Americans three ahead.

“Steve with his putter and short game, it just allows me to play golf and not have to worry about playing too aggressively,” said O'Hair, who earned $405,000 as part of the winning team. “It really freed me up this week. He made so many great putts that kept us in it.”

For Stricker, the key was the hat-trick of birdies they made to finish the front nine and that O'Hair eagle.

"At that point we were 2-down and we both were talking that let's make two out of these next three holes," he said of the finish to the front nine. "We ended up birdieing all three, so it was a nice momentum push going in the back nine.

"And those holes played a little bit tougher, too. Sean made a great birdie at 11 to kind of get us up ahead. Those holes were tough holes today. We just built that momentum there, and then really the killing shot there was at 17 when he made eagle and put us ahead for good."

McDowell made a consolation birdie from 25 feet at the last to reduce the final deficit to just two shots but both Irishmen can now look forward to getting back to winning ways in 2018 and challenging for places in the European Ryder Cup team.

Sean O'Hair and Steve Stricker

Sean O'Hair and Steve Stricker

Lowry (30) plans to base himself in the US for the first half of the year and play more PGA Tour events to give himself the best chance of holding on to his card.

“Guys out here play 25, 30 events, and to try to compete against those guys in 15 events, I don’t think it’s doable — hence the reason for playing more over here,” said Lowry, whose exemption for winning the 2015 WGC Bridgestone Invitational runs out at the end of 2018.

”I'm hoping I can play 20 next year, maybe even one or two more. I'm really looking forward to it. I love it over here, I love the PGA Tour. I'm looking forward to next year."

McDowell (38) recorded his first top 10 for almost a year in last month’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and confessed recently that while he’s lost ground to the power hitters, he still has the desire to challenge for a second major title.

“The game has changed at a massive rate around me in the seven years since I won a major championship,” the 2010 US Open champion said recently. “But I think with the right golf course set up, and at the right time in the future, I’d love to compete and try to win another one.”