Lowry, a 22 year-old amateur from the Esker Hills near Tullamore, yesterday dramatically prevailed in his first appearance in a professional tournament after three play-off holes, even though much of the pressure had been removed from the shoulders of his rival, 32 year-old Englishman Robert Rock, who was guaranteed the first prize of €500,000 no matter what happened.
As they battled their way through atrocious conditions over three agonising play-off holes, Lowry couldn’t help commenting to his caddie and close friend David Reynolds: “He has the money, would he ever just miss?”
The 3 Irish Open has, unbelievably, ended up in the possession of a young Irishman who needed an invitation to get into the event and took full advantage by shooting a 17 under par total of 271 that included a superb 62 in Friday’s second round.
It was after then that the 22 year-old from Clara, Co Offaly, realised a life-changing experience might be on the cards. That confidence was understandably dented when he fell two behind after 11 holes in the final round but his reaction was nothing short of remarkable.
He atoned for bogeys at the 9th and 11th with a crucial birdie putt at the 14th and then, as first the Swede Johan Edfors and Rock felt the pressure, produced a magnificent wedge of 127 yards at the 16th and confidently rolled in the putt to take a one stroke lead. He looked to have taken a grip on the title by hitting the green at the difficult 206 yards par 3 17th but missed the putt and was pulled back to level pegging again when Rock rolled in a 20-footer of his own for a two.
By now, a sunny if very windy afternoon had given way to a shower that gradually assumed serious proportions. They were the kind of circumstances one might have expected to suit the professional but it was Lowry who drew thunderous cheers from the 20,000 crowd by landing his third shot a yard from the hole at the long 18th .
But he missed the putt and so a play-off ensued. Lowry had his best chance second time round when he launched a three wood of 269 yards through the wind and cascading rain that drew to within 12 feet of the flag. Again, though, the putt for eagle and glory refused to drop, and when Rock made an up and down from the trap for a half-holing birdie, some felt Lowry’s chance had passed.
But it was Rock who cracked as he overhit his wedge approach at the third time of asking and was unable to get up and down from a little hollow at the back of the green, missing from six feet to prolong the contest. Lowry tapped in and Baltray experienced unbelievable scenes of delight.
“Coming off the 13th green, I told my coach, Neil Manchip, that I would have to get a few putts and holing the one at the 14th got my confidence up”, said Lowry. “The yardage at the 16th in the cross-wind was ideal, it was the perfect shot for me. I was very nervous yesterday morning and my caddie, David Reynolds, was a huge help. He’s been caddying for me for the past two years and he is so calm and slow in everything he does, and it seems to work. He calmed me down a good bit and just said the right things at the right time.”
As for the sensational three wood at the second play-off hole, he said: “It was perfect, 240 to the front, 270 to the flag. I just hit a hard three wood off the left hand bunker and while it drifted a little too much, it caught the bank perfectly and rolled up to 12 feet or so.”
As Lowry guzzled from a bottle of champagne handed to him by Rory McIlroy and his massive army of ecstatic if drenched fans cheered wildly, Robert Rock took it all with a knowing smile and outstanding sportsmanship. It helped, of course, that the €500,000 prize was already safely in the bank but in fairness, he could hardly have been more gracious.
“It is a little bit of a consolation and so we got something out of it”, he commented as he tried to conceal the understandable disappointment of failing to pull off his first European Tour victory. “Shane was absolutely unbelievable. I’m happy for him. I probably made a little mistake there at the end. I was surprised to see my approach go over the green and I was trying to hole the chip. You want to try and win and I was just a little too firm with it. I tried to get the line right but left myself a lot of work to do and I didn’t do a great job with the chip.”
As for the missed chance of being a half million euro better off, Shane Lowry just shrugged his shoulders and said: “Obviously it would be great but it’s not something I will worry about.”