AKRON, Ohio -- Forget what the world rankings say, maybe we just discovered the new Best Irish Golfer on the Planet.
His name is Shane Lowry, he’s 28, he chips and putts like a young Craig Stadler (that’s a compliment) and has a similar waistline (not as much), he made clutch shot after clutch shot on the closing holes and won the Bridgestone Invitational here Sunday.
And, oh yeah, he beat that other kid, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the No. 1 player in the world, in the World Match Play two years ago. It was such an upset at the time that Lowry’s mother cried on the phone when he called her.
Since McIlroy has been out with an ankle injury—he’ll try to play next week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits—Lowry should rank as the best Irish-flavored player in the world, at least for the moment.
Lowry’s third win, his second as a pro to go with his Irish Open victory as an amateur, was the title that McIlroy wasn’t able to defend at Firestone Country Club’s South Course. That ought to make it extra-Irish special, right?
“I really don’t care who won last year,” Lowry said with a laugh. “I won it this year and that’s all that matters to me right now.”
Lowry was the only man to finish in double digits under par—he was 11-under and only five players finished better than five under par for four rounds at the mighty South Course. And he won the Bridgestone impressively, a closing 66 with no bogeys and outlasted the three major champions who were chasing him—Bubba Watson, Justin Rose and Jim Furyk.
This win was unexpected, obviously, maybe even as his approach shot was in the air on the 72nd hole. Lowry pulled his drive into the left rough but caught a good lie and had a window under a tree in front of him but then had to get his 141-yard approach over the trees guarding the left side of the green. Lowry jumped on a sand wedge, the ball appeared to rustle off a few leaves, then it landed pin high and stopped 11 feet from the cup. A bogey would have dropped him into a tie with Watson, who was in the clubhouse at 9-under.
Instead, Lowry rolled in a curvy right-to-left putt for the best 72nd-hole birdie in this tournament since Tiger Woods made that infamous birdie in the dark.
Runner-up Watson wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or chagrined. Asked what he remembered about next week’s PGA in 2010, Watson said, “I lost. At least I got into a playoff. Here, I didn’t even get into a playoff. Through the tree and make birdie!” He shook his head and grinned.
That was only half of it, Bubba. Lowry came up big throughout the final nine. At 17, nursing a one-stroke edge, his ball came to rest up against the deep edge of the rough just off the green, a finicky shot at best. He chipped to to six feet, then holed the putt like he’s been doing it all his life, although the fist pump that followed told you how much it meant. “Yeah, that was massive,” he admitted later. Lowry hit a 6-iron pin-high at the par-3 15th for a smooth par, and at 14, he drove it in a fairway bunker, laid up and then drained a clutch 18-footer to save par.
He got up and down for par at the 13th, stiffed it from the greenside bunker to save par at the 11th and pulled off the runner-up shot of the week (next to his approach at 18) at the 10th. He yanked his drive into the left rough, then swung just about out of his shoes with a sand wedge and flew it over the trees guarding the green. He pulled the shot left a bit but when it landed just off the fringe, it kicked hard right, caught a slope and trickled to within two feet for a kick-in birdie.
Is this guy just lucky or is he good? Well, once is lucky. Twice is good.
“I couldn’t believe I was seeing the ball coming down from there on the green,” Lowry said of his miracle recovery at the 18th. “The ball was in a bit of a hole and I was trying to get it to the front right of the green, but I pulled it a little bit. Obviously, it went through the tree and the rest is history.”
He asked his caddie if he could two-putt and win and his caddie answered in the affirmative. Then Lowry dropped the putt for birdie and a two-shot edge, closing out Rose and Furyk, who were three shots back before they each bogeyed the 18th to tie for third. Rose and Furyk, who shared the 54-hole lead, shot 72s. Watson shot 66.
“I played as good a golf as I’ve ever played the last four days,” said Lowry, who got into the field by being ranked 48th in the world. “I managed to hole a few putts and get a bit of luck. To shoot 11 under on this course, this is one of the toughest courses we play. I thought eight under would probably win earlier this week. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
This is the second time Lowry won’t get full credit for a victory. He won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, a fantastic effort, but he saw runner-up Robert Rock collect the 500,000-pound first prize. Lowry’s mother, Bridget, picked up more than 15,000 pounds in winnings because she wagered on her son to win at 250-1 odds. “She had a nice check, more than me, anyway,” he said then.
Lowry snags $1.57 million for winning the Bridgestone, but because he was not a fully exempt PGA Tour player, he won’t collect FedEx Cup points for this victory. Lowry said he hopes to play both the PGA Tour and the European Tour now that he’s a member on the tours.
“The future looks OK as of now,” he said with a wide smile.
He’s planning to get married next year to his fiancé, Wendy. Asked if this is payday going to allow for a more extravagant wedding, he joked, “Wendy probably thinks that.” But no, he said, it won’t be a fancy wedding, just a nice Irish get-together with family and friends. Lowry said he is not interested in moving to America to live, as many European players have done. He’ll stay in his home country.
Lowry was two years older than McIlroy when they grew up and Rory, Lowry said, was playing in men’s events when he was still young and Lowry, as a late-bloomer, was still playing boy’s events. So their paths didn’t cross much early, although they were teammates on a few occasions in some amateur team events.
“Yeah, I’ve knocked around with Rory for the last few years,” Lowry said. “To see what he does in the game and how he plays—when you hang around with him and Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, guys who have done well and won majors, it definitely helps you.”
McIlroy beat Lowry in the European match-play event last year at Wentworth so they’re kind of even in that sense. “I’d love to go down the stretch with him again someday,” Lowry said. ”You want to test yourself against the best players in the world. So if I find myself in a battle with Rory next week with nine holes to play, I’ll be very, very happy.”
So would most of Ireland. The party after Lowry’s victory here might almost be winding down by then.