Those demons of Oakmont truly believed they had buried Shane Lowry once more, but just when the Irishman seemed to be re-enacting his torment of the 2016 US Open, so he somehow found the gumption to entomb his ghouls deep in this Arabian Desert.
This was the first time Lowry had held a third-round lead since blowing that four-shot advantage almost three years ago and when his three-shot cushion was transformed into a gaping four-shot deficit with seven holes remaining in this HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, it appeared grim history was being re-run.
But as the South African Richard Sterne – who had been so impressive over those opening stages – suddenly stumbled and went from fearless hunter to nervous hunted, Lowry’s putter performed a wild rescue act.
There was any number of vital putts on the back nine, but none more so than the 15-footer on the 17th for a par. Lowry had drawn level with Sterne on the 16th, yet was odds-on to go behind once more when he missed the green on the right. But the ball dropped and, so, too, did his rival’s head and all that was left was for Lowry, courtesy of a beautifully controlled three-wood second, to birdie the par-five 18th.
When he tapped in the winning two-footer he threw his head back to the heavens, was soon embracing wife Wendy and hugging two-year-old daughter, Iris. This was his first title in three-and-half years, a spell that saw him plummet from a high of 17th in the world to 75th. Lowry returns into the world’s top 50 and is odds-on to earn his place at The Masters in April.
“I completely thought I was gone, to be honest. I didn’t think I had that in me, he said. “Oakmont was on my mind, yes, but I didn’t show any bottle there and I had a word with myself this time and am proud I fought back. All sorts of things went through my head. In the middle of the night I was envisaging this little girl running around at Augusta in a white boiler suit, caddieing in the par three. It’s been a tough few years on the course…”
Apart from the rich emotion, Lowry's £905,000 triumph will be remembered primarily for his ridiculous display on the four par-threes here at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. He made 11 twos in his 16 attempts, a record for the European Tour. There were two in this 71 for an 18-under total, the second of which – on the 12th – started the resurrection. In his career, that putt could one day be viewed as so significant.
When the 31-year-old lost his US Tour card last year, it appeared another huge blow to his status but as he now focuses on making next year’s Ryder Cup team – captained by his great friend Padraig Harrington – being forced to concentrate on his home circuit could prove a blessing in disguise. Certainly he has re-established himself as a contender with this pillar-to-post performance that, of course, began with that course-record equaling 62.
Big things were predicted from this son of Co. Offaly when he won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009 and even bigger when he won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2015. Lowry was a childhood friend of Rory McIlroy and at last he is set to rejoin his former amateur teammate on the elite stage.
Credit to Sterne, because he made this an enthralling battle with his 69. The 37-year-old made four birdies in the first five holes – highlighted by the outrageous chip-in on the fifth - yet perhaps the fact he is winless for six years affected him in the last five holes, that he played in two-over.
The Dutchman Joost Luiten finished third on 15-under following a spectacular 65 in these testing conditions, while Ian Poulter was left to rue a triple-bogey seven on the 16th which caused him to fall into a tie for sixth on 11-under after a 72.