Shane Lowry’s PGA Tour drought continues as Austin Eckroat wins Cognizant Classic

Irish golfer closes with a 71 after two visits to the water on the back nine prove very costly

The love Shane Lowry has for the course at Palm Beaches remained unrequited, as – yet again – the Offalyman departed the Florida golfing resort with a familiar spurned feeling after a weather-disrupted final round 71 for 271 saw him finished in tied-fourth place in the PGA Tour’s Cognizant Classic, four shots behind winner Austin Eckroat.

Not for the first time, Lowry – who had past chances to win the tournament when it was known as the Honda Classic – came undone down the stretch. On this occasion, there were two water balls of his resumed round: firstly, off the tee on the 11th, where he did well to limit the damage to a bogey; then, on the 15th, when he was ravaged on the par three start to the Bear Trap when his tee shot leaked right into the water. The resultant, ugly double-bogey five hurt.

“He loves this place,” Rory McIlroy had remarked of Lowry’s feelings for the course, those words spoken after his own bid had ended on Sunday evening but with the 2019 Open champion still entertaining hopes of victory with two-thirds of his round to be completed.

But Lowry – who had shared the 54 holes lead with England’s David Skinns – failed to ignite, a bogey on the eighth on his resumption leading to him turning in two over for the round. He eventually managed a birdie on the 10th but, then, lost his tee shot left on the par-four 11th, and after taking a penalty drop did well to limit the damage to a bogey.


Lowry finally made inroads with birdies on the 12th and 14th before his seven iron tee shot on the 15th found a watery grave. His third shot, from the drop zone, spun back to 35 feet below the hole and he two-putted for a double bogey.

Although his chances of winning for the first time on the PGA Tour since his claret jug success at Royal Portrush, Lowry at least managed to regain his composure to finish strongly with birdies on the 16th and 18th to move into a five-way tied-fourth finish.

Lowry, who was runner-up in the tournament in 2022 and also finished tied-fifth last year, again contended without getting his hands on the Waterford Crystal trophy which gave Eckroat his breakthrough win and also earned the American his ticket to next month’s Masters tournament at Augusta National.

For Lowry, it will be a case of moving on swiftly after securing a sponsor’s exemption into this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, one of the PGA Tour’s $20 million limited field events. Lowry didn’t qualify for the previous two signature events (the Genesis and Pebble Beach) but received one of six invitations to Bay Hill, where there is not cut. Lowry is also playing the following week’s Players Championship.

Skinns, a 42-year-old Englishman who played his way into the PGA Tour after years on the Canadian and the Korn Ferry tours, enjoyed his best career finish but heads in a different direction his week, to play in the Puerto Rico Open.

A brilliantly crafted closing round 67 for a total of 17-under-par 267 gave Eckroat a first career win, as the 25-year-old graduate of the Korn Ferry Tour finished three shots clear of runners-up Min Woo Lee and Erik van Rooyen.

Heavy rains on Sunday had forced the tournament into a Monday finish and Eckroat resumed on the eighth, adding birdies on the 12th and 13th before missing a six-footer on the 14th for his only bogey. He rebounded with a birdie on the 16th and had the luxury of playing the finishing par-five 18th conservatively to capture his maiden title and which moved him to 17th on the updated FedEx Cup standings and into the top-50 on the world rankings.

“The first win? You can’t really visualise what it will be messing around when you’re a kid on the putting green having putts to win PGA Tour events and win the Masters and stuff like that,” said Eckroat.

“But coming into today, I’ve been in this situation before at the Byron Nelson [last year] where I had a lead. I didn’t really know what to expect what the feeling would be. I knew finishing second was heartbreaking. I still don’t think I’m sure how I feel yet. I know I’m excited.”

The win, though, changes Eckroat’s scheduling going forward. “I’m going to see what evaluating my schedule and seeing what the rest of the season is going to hold. It’s just a great opportunity upcoming with what the win does for me. The job security I gain from that, as well. There’s a lot that this got for me.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times