Life-changing! Shane Lowry scooped the jackpot, dialling in the right numbers with a succession of drives, approach shots and putts that combined to fire a final round 66 for 11-under-par 269 to fend off a host of Major champions to lift the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
In claiming the $1.57 million winner's cheque, the 28-year-old Offalyman held off a determined charge from two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. The victory - the biggest of Lowry's career - earned him a three year exemption onto the PGA Tour, a ticket to next year's US Masters and moved him into the world's top-20.
Not once but twice Lowry produced stunning recovery shots that were reminiscent of the late, great Seve Ballesteros - on the 10th and again on the 18th - both of which set up birdies in a bogey-free round that gave him the biggest win of his career.
Lowry became only the third player in the last 40 years to claim their first PGA Tour title at Firestone, joining Nick Price (1983) and Jose Maria Olazabal (1999). The win also had an immediate effect in giving him full PGA Tour status for this season which puts him into the FedEx Cup playoffs and a chance to challenge for the $10 million winner's bonus.
“It is hard to believe but I played good. I was quite nervous towards the end (of the round) and made a lot of good decisions and got a bit of luck as well. It is great to be able to pull something off,” said Lowry, who finished two shots clear of Watson. He now moves on to this week’s US PGA championship as a world champion and intent on bringing that momentum with him.
World number one Rory McIlroy effectively declared himself fit for his title defence in next week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when he told Golf Channel on Sunday that his rehabilitated left ankle was a “non-issue”.
The Northern Irishman, out of action since he ruptured a ligament in his ankle while playing soccer with friends on July 4th, spoke after playing 18 holes of practice for a second day in a row at the venue in Kohler, Wisconsin.
After his first practice round at Whistling Straits on Saturday, where he was seen scampering up the hills on the undulating layout, McIlroy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his ankle was “good” before he headed off to the parking lot.
“Obviously, getting around a golf course like this, playing 18 holes, it felt fine,” the four-times major winner said. “I’ve come a long way in five weeks. This has been the five-week mark today from when I did it.”