08/10/2015

The emerald shamrock on his ball revealed much of what you need to know about WGC Bridgestone Invitational champion Shane Lowry.

He’s young, willing to decorate his Srixon with something more than the traditional dots and lines that mark the PGA Tour. He’s a proud Irishman, who won his country’s national championship, the Irish Open, as an amateur in 2009. And of course the shamrock represents luck.

On the 72nd hole in Akron, Lowry found himself badly in need of some good fortune. After a terrific up-and-down from the green-side rough on 17 to preserve a one-shot lead, the 28-year-old drove his tee shot far left into trampled grass behind the line of trees. It looked to be a near impossible shot—a dead-flat lie with only a small view of the green and those trees to deal with.

Lowry grabbed his lob wedge as Bubba Watson, in the clubhouse at -9, thought about a potential playoff. Heck, with all that could go wrong with Lowry’s approach, Watson might have thought he’d be the one escaping with the trophy.

Instead, Lowry delivered a shot for the ages. His ball narrowly cleared the trees, just catching a leaf or three as it descended, and fell out of the sky to land, softly for the first time all day, eight feet from the hole. The 48th-ranked player in the world sank the birdie putt and let off a fury of fist pumps for his first career PGA Tour victory. The win earns Lowry a Tour card, nudges him closer to the 2016 Ryder Cup, and qualifies him for the FedExCup Playoffs.

With the margin of error on that final shot, you could call Lowry lucky. The co-leader after 54 holes Jim Furyk faced a similar predicament on 18 as he closed out the tournament. His shot, however, clipped a branch on its way to the green and nestled in the rough. Furyk bogeyed, an outcome that would have sent Lowry, who finished at -11, to a playoff. Call it unlucky for the West Chester, Pennsylvania native who has now failed to win the last 11 times he’s held a 54-hole lead.

But luck was only a part of Lowry’s tremendous performance. He demonstrated precision and poise on a caked-out Firestone Course that demanded both. The narrow fairways were effectively narrower thanks to a hotter-than-normal summer in Central Ohio. The greens were all but unreadable on some holes and rarely obeyed the spin of approach shots.

And yet as others, like Furyk and Rose who both shot +2 Sunday, faltered, Lowry surged. He followed up a front-nine 33 with a birdie on 10 that was equal to if not better than his effort on 18. Lowry hit a blind lob from down a hill and behind trees to a foot.

From there, it was a bogey-free, methodical march to victory. Watson came closest to ruining the Irish party, but a couple of missed shorties derailed his pursuit. He settled for a second place finish when, after a 379-yard bomb, his approach succumbed to the firmness of the 18th green. Besides, Lowry’s birdie there rendered Bubba’s 4 a moot point.

This summer has been a coming out party for Lowry. At 6-1, 216 pounds, he’s a can’t-miss player in more ways than one. Lowry claimed a top-10 at Chambers Bay and although he narrowly missed the cut at St. Andrew’s, he enters the PGA Championship as a real contender.

With long, accurate drives, and, as we saw this weekend, a deft short game, Lowry possesses the kind of skillset needed to best Whistling Straits. He’ll just need a little luck.