Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry add a green hue to top-10
Lowry, McIlroy and Graeme McDowell glad to survive punishing course in tough conditions
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland drives off the 10th tee during the final round of the US PGA Championship golf tournament at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York on Sunday. Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP
A green hue materialised, as if from nowhere. And, for Shane Lowry especially, a brilliant weekend’s play of 68-69 in the final two rounds of this 101st edition of the US PGA Championship on Bethpage Black reaped dividends beyond the accumulated greenbacks that worked its way into his bank account.
Flashback to the 16th green of Lowry’s second round on Friday, where a bogey had him languishing outside the cut. Fast-forward briefly to the 17th, where a birdie got him onto the cut-line, where he stayed right on that mark. And then, like air released through a pressure valve, he allowed himself to play as he would like over the final two rounds. The grit from Friday replaced by patience (a run of 24 holes without a bogey at one point), and some wonderful shot-making.
I felt like I played great. I felt like I was so in control the last three days
Lowry and Rory McIlroy, who also showed his own brand of resilience, each closed with rounds of 69 to finish on 281, one-over-par, and in a tie for eighth at the season’s second Major. Graeme McDowell, too, produced a fighting final round as he signed for a 70 for 285 and tied-29th.
For Lowry, the toughness of the course, the wildness of the fans, the whole lot contrived to energise him.
“I suppose if you had told me at the start of the week I was going to shoot three rounds under par around here, I would have a chance to win. I felt like I played great. I felt like I was so in control the last three days. Thursday was a bit of a write-off but the last three days have just felt great,” said Lowry, who revealed he found something in his swing on the range on Friday and brought that into his final three rounds as he leapfrogged his way upwards and onwards.
In the final round, there were a number of superb par saves that were every bit as important as birdies. On the 12th, for example, an untypically wild tee shot into the trees and rough saw him only able to advance the ball into primary rough still some 60 yards short of the green. “I took my medicine,” he explained of playing the ball out to 30ft left of the flag. He rolled in the par putt.
Again, on the 16th, a par save from a greenside bunker. And, on the 18th, another. This time after getting a “lucky break” in missing the really tall fescues and again contriving to get up greenside and getting up and down for a par and a 69 that had him proclaiming himself “the happiest man in Bethpage”. The wide grin told its own story.
It’s a 72-hole golf tournament and you’ve got to try ’til the very end and I did that
“I feel like a lot of toying with my equipment this year, I feel like I have my bag set up perfectly now, so I feel like I can just go out and play, and worry about what I’m doing on the golf course and, like, I drove the ball lovely the last few days, and I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season now,” said Lowry.
Lowry, who has been based in the United States for the past three months, is due to return home next week before returning across the Atlantic to play the Canadian Open and the US Open at Pebble Beach next month.
McIlroy too had fought back from being outside the cut line on Friday to survive.
“I could have let my head go down in the middle of that second round and go back to Florida. But I didn’t, I stuck at it the whole way. It’s a 72-hole golf tournament and you’ve got to try ’til the very end and I did that. You know, it wasn’t good enough to be up there in contention but I made improvements each and every day, which is a good thing.”
The 30-year-old Northern Irishman has planned a different approach into the season’s next Major on the Monterey Peninsula. Having opted not to play the week ahead of the Masters or the US PGA, McIlroy will play the Canadian Open before teeing up in Pebble Beach.
“My record in the US Open hasn’t been very good the last few years. So I wanted to mix it up a little bit, so it’s going to be my third tournament in a row – I’m playing Memorial, Canada and then Pebble. I’m looking forward to that run of golf and looking forward to getting my game sharp and in good shape for that Major,” said McIlroy.
For McDowell, it was a case of being glad to survive. As he put it, “I’ve just had two weeks off and I feel like I’ve just played 12 in a row or something. This has been a really long week and I got here Tuesday afternoon and it’s been an incredibly long week. This golf course is relentless.”