Three years and 76 tournaments later, Shane Lowry finally followed up his success at the 2019 Open with a remarkable win at the BMW PGA Championship in which he avoided making a bogey all week.
Rory McIlroy, his former teenage partner on the Irish amateur team, came within centimetres of forcing a play-off, but as his eagle putt on the 18th dribbled past, Lowry held his head in his hands and took in his overdue triumph in the DP World Tour’s flagship event.
However, there was far more to this emotional victory than merely personal validation. “This was a win for the good guys,” Lowry said, with a far from subtle dig at the 15 LIV-contracted players who decided to tee it up here.
Patrick Reed predicted that there would be “a media s--- show” if one of the rebel golfers prevailed. As it was, there were two in the top five, with Reed fifth after a 63 and fellow American Talor Gooch fourth after a 67 left him one behind McIlroy and Jon Rahm in a tie for second. That made it all the more sweet for Lowry.
“I made no secrets as to how I felt about the whole LIV thing at the start of the week,” Lowry said. “I wanted to win this tournament for myself, first and foremost, but also for everyone who’s stayed loyal to this tour. I’ve been close a few times since Portrush and words can’t describe how happy I am, how much this means to me and how much I love this tour.”
Do not tell the Saudi-funded circuit, but maybe there is something in this 54-hole malarkey, because this was one of the most exciting finales in decades at the West Course.
With Rahm posting an early 62 – a 10-under round in which he was nine under for his last 10 holes, including a bogey – to set a 16-under target, Lowry and McIlroy set off in pursuit and the former caught the Spaniard by making an eagle and four birdies in his first 12 holes.
At that stage it seemed as if the 35-year-old would win at a canter, but the birdies dried up and he went to the 18th knowing he needed another red figure to leapfrog Rahm. By then, there was the added compilation of McIlroy to factor in.
Starting one off the lead, the world No 3 was not at his best, unable to build on his eagle on the fourth and bogeying the eighth. Yet McIlroy dug deep, birdieing the 10th and 12th, and when his 15-footer on the 15th dropped, he was within one and the 25,000-strong crowd were in rapture.
Like Lowry in the group ahead, he failed to birdie the par-five 17th and realised he needed to go one better than his Ryder Cup team-mate to draw level.
Lowry split the fairway and hit a sumptuous approach to 18 feet. He coseyed his putt down the slope and, with the four on the par five, moved ahead of Rahm with a 65 for a 17-under total. Could McIlroy conjure a three? His three-iron from 278 yards to 20ft gave him a tantalising opportunity, but somehow his effort stayed above ground, meaning he shared second with Rahm.
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“Shane winning softens the blow,” said McIlroy, who won this title eight years ago. “I struggled today. I didn’t hit my irons very well. I was sort of scrambling a lot, but I got the most of my round. I wish I had made a four on 17 but, apart from that, I did what I needed to do to give myself a chance going down 18 and that’s all you can ask for.
“If it had been someone else, I might not have felt as comfortable with it as I am. Seeing a friend win is always great. Shane was having a sneakily good year, even though the results mightn’t have suggested it, but playing at home with him you could see.
“I think it’s as consistent as Shane has played in his entire career, which obviously bodes well for him for the future and for Europe’s Ryder Cup team next year. It was a good day for the game of golf.”