Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Lowry goes wire-to-wire but not before wobbly final day in Abu Dhabi

Ross Kinniard/Getty Images

By Kent Gray
They don’t give away €1.02 million easily in golf. Just ask Shane Lowry.

The 36-year-old survived a rollercoaster final round battle with Richard Stern to claim the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday, a maiden Rolex Series title that took his European Tour tally to four – as many years as it’s been since his last win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Lowry needed a two-putt birdie on Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s 18th green to finally see off his gritty South African rival in one of the most dramatic, and surely the most topsy-turvy, final rounds in the 14-year history of the Desert Swing opener.

“I didn’t think I had that in me today,” the tournament’s first Irish winner said after signing for a closing one-under 71 to finish -18 for the championship, a shot clear of Sterne (69).

Lowry did somehow conjure up the necessary mental fortitude to go wire-to-wire but had to dig deep after seeing his three shot overnight lead evaporate inside the first three holes of Saturday’s windswept final round, as Sterne opened with three successive birdies in a blistering start of four gains in five holes.

Struggling with an ugly duck hook off the tee, Lowry made the turn on The National in 37 strokes to Stern’s 31 (five under) and trailed by as many as four when he bogeyed the 11th. But Lowry’s outward topsy turned to Sterne’s inward turvy in the final eight holes and it came as little surprise that the Irishman’s comeback was triggered on the par-3 12th with a near tap-in birdie.

Lowry negotiated 16 trips to the National’s par-3s in a combined 10 under this week – and that included a bogey on the 4th Friday. The gain on 12 cut Sterne’s lead to three and it was two when Lowry nailed back-to-back birdies after draining a long putt on the 13th.

A three-putt bogey on the next suddenly saw Sterne’s buffer sliced to one and they were tied standing on the 17th tee after the South African, chasing his first title since the 2013 Joburg Open, short-sided himself in a greenside bunker on the 16th and left his par putt from off the putting surface on the edge of the cup.

Lowry will long remember the par-3s but his brilliant up-and-down for par on 17, after pushing his second from a fairway bunker towards a Rolex hoarding that had to be removed so he could play his third shot, will linger in the final wash-up of this absorbing dogfight. Left with a 15-footer for par, Lowry exhaled a huge sigh of relief when his ball took a half lap of the cup before disappearing below earth.

The drama continued on 18 after both players, tied at -17, split the fairway. Sterne had the honour from 286 yards on the par-5 but carved his five wood right onto the cart-part splitting the 9th and final greens. With the assistance of a couple of alignment sticks drawn from Sterne’s bag, rules official John Paramor helped the South African take relief from the bricks but even though he drew a sporting lie from one of those awkward new knee-high drops, the 37-year-old was still short-sided and had to settle for a two-putt par.

Lowry, meanwhile, had slid a beautiful three-wood from 281 yards to the heart of the final green and held his nerve as Sterne went through the process of getting relief. The world No.75 left himself a knee-knocker from two-feet for the title but wasn’t going to buckle after such a hard day at the office, a result that will see him climb back into the world’s top-40 when the OWGR are recalculated on Monday.

“Obviously it’s great to have a Rolex Series win beside my name now. I get the gold bib and get the star there,” Lowry said afterwards.

“We’re very lucky to be able to play such big events on The European Tour and Rolex have done a great job. All the players, I can vouch for them and say we’re very grateful to be playing for the types of money we are in the events we’re playing in. So yeah, I’m just over the moon to have won.”


Kent Gray

Editor of Golf Digest Middle East. Has written about golf since 1989 and owned a suspect short game even longer.

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