Gutsy Shane Lowry overcomes a Sterne test

It ended up proving a Sterne test but Shane Lowry got there in the end. Three shots ahead overnight, the 31-year-old Irishman found himself trailing his playing partner, South African Richard Sterne, by four shots with just seven holes to play in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shane Lowry with wife Wendy and daughter Iris, two. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty

It was a feeling of déjà vu for Lowry. In the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, he’d held a four-shot lead heading into the last day only to end up three behind the winner, Dustin Johnson. This was the first time since that disappointment that the Offaly man had got his nose in front after 54 holes.

Who knows what it would have done for his confidence if the opportunity to return to winning ways had slipped from his grasp. That it didn’t was down to a combination of Sterne’s sloppiness and true grit from Lowry.

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Bidding for a seventh European Tour triumph but first since 2013, Sterne made six birdies to be out in 31. He looked to be cruising until Lowry birdied the 12th and 13th to reduce a four-shot gap to just two. Feeling the pressure perhaps, Sterne then three-putted the 14th before also dropping a shot two holes later.

Sensing that his opportunity had, in fact, not been lost, Lowry rolled in a 20-footer for par at the 17th to stay on level terms before finding the heart of the green with a majestic fairway wood to set up a title-winning birdie at the par-5 18th, closing with a 71 for an 18-under 270 total. It was his first victory since landing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2015. Worth £905,000, it’s put him on course for a return to the world’s top 50 and an invitation for this year’s Masters.

“I completely thought I was gone, to be honest,” admitted an emotional Lowry. “I didn’t think I had that in me. The putts I holed, the shots I made.” They earned him a big hug from both his wife, Wendy, and two-year-old daughter, Iris, on the home green.

“All sorts of things went through my head,” admitted Lowry, who revealed earlier in the week that he was on an “18-month mission” to make Padraig Harrington’s team for the 2020 Ryder Cup in Wisconsin. Referring to Iris, he added: “In the middle of the night I was envisaging this little girl running around at Augusta in a white boiler suit, caddying in the par-3 event. All sorts of things go through your mind in this mad game. It’s been a tough few years on the course…”

Had Oakmont crept into his mind after falling behind Sterne? “It did,” he said. “But one thing I learned from Oakmont was that I lay down. I showed no fight or bottle, but I did today.”

Scott Jamieson narrowly missed out on a second straight top-10 finish, but a plucky late salvo secured him valuable Race to Dubai points. The Florida-based Scot signed off with two birdies, giving him a level-par 72 for a 10-under 278 total. That earned him a share of 11th spot to add to his joint-third in the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa last month as he made his first appearance on the 2019 schedule. “It is an encouraging start to the year,” admitted Jamieson, who left it late last season to secure his card after finishing a career-best 26th in the Race to Dubai in 2017.

The 35-year-old, who started the day in a share of fifth spot, saw his hopes of last-round surge scuppered by an early bogey but was pleased about how he dug in thereafter in windy conditions. “I played pretty well again,” he added. “A couple under would have been about right so that was disappointing. But a couple of birdies to finish saves the day a bit.

It was a disappointing end for Grant Forrest on his Rolex Series debut as the 25-year-old, who was playing with 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, slipped 30 spots to joint-42nd after a closing 76.