Shane Lowry saved the best for last with a five-under 67 as a fabulous finish from Poland’s Adrian Meronk saw him roar to a three-shot victory at the Horizon Irish Open.
Two birdies and an eagle in his final four holes saw Meronk pull clear of New Zealand’s Ryan Fox and become the first Polish player to win on the DP World Tour – his maiden win in his 65th appearance.
Lowry finished eight shots adrift on twelve-under as he secured ninth place, his best Irish Open finish as a professional since a share of 5th place in 2013.
The Clara native was pleased to round off his home campaign on a high.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “You only get to come back to Ireland once a year to play in front of a home crowd. This year was extra special for the long wait for a proper Irish Open with Covid and all that so yeah I really enjoyed my time here. Had a great time staying on site and the course held up great with the conditions. Yeah it was a really nice week.”
After a slow start to the week where it looked like Lowry’s week would end at the halfway stage before four closing birdies saw him make the cut in thrilling fashion. In the end, the 2009 champion produced winning form, playing his last 40 holes in thirteen-under and he is in great shape heading into the Open Championship in St Andrews almost exactly three years to the day since he lifted the Claret Jug in 2019.
“I’ll have my own excuses, it was nice to play good golf over the weekend. After Friday evening all I wanted to do was go out and find some good form and play some good golf and bring confidence going to St Andrews and I really feel like I got that. I hit the ball where I wanted to a lot of the time and rolled the ball pretty well on the greens even though I didn’t hole a whole lot today.
“If I didn’t make those birdies on friday I would be searching for something, that’s how fickle golf is now I don’t need to find anything, bit of putting on slow greens, hitting the ball into wind and I will be ready for St Andrews.”
Since his historic Irish Open win as an amateur thirteen years ago the Offaly man hasn’t threatened to win his home event as a professional and he acknowledged that perhaps he tries too hard during the early part of the week. The 35-year-old admitted he would take stock of his approach to Irish Opens in the future and he would have loved nothing more than to be in the position of Meronk and Fox on Sunday afternoon.
“This week mentally always takes a lot out of me. I struggled the first couple of days from it, I definitely need to figure out going forward how to handle myself better on a week like this, but that’s up to me,” he explained. “I think I’m getting better at it but if I want to win another Irish Open I need to be better at it. Might try something different next year maybe arrive Thursday morning!
“I just want to do well so much for this tournament and those crowds. I would give anything to be going down the stretch with a chance to win the tournament. Imagine standing on 18 with a putt to win the Irish Open in front of that crowd would be dream stuff so that’s why I put a bit too much pressure on myself at the start of this week.”
While the golf was good, there was external disappointment for Lowry who has invested heavily in the underage structure of Offaly GAA. The faithful county saw their minor All-Ireland hopes dashed after a last gasp goal by Tipperary in nearby Nowlan Park.
“I was told going to the 17th tee that we won and then I stood on the 17th tee and my brother Alan had the thumbs down for a last minute goal. That’s sport, I’ve been the wrong side of a lot of results if you take the positives you will be OK.
“I had my Offaly jersey in the bag and I was tempted to put it on going down 18 if they won so yeah it’s very disappointing.”
New Zealander Fox tasted bitter disappointment once again on Irish soil as he registered his second runner-up finish in his last five Irish Open. After losing to Russell Knox in a playoff in 2018 the powerful Kiwi was the leader in the clubhouse on –17 after he bookended his week with rounds of 64, despite a bogey on the 72nd hole.
While he was hitting balls on the range in the hope of some playoff redemption, Meronk went on the charge and took the Irish Open by the scruff of the neck.
Birdies on 15 and 16 saw him edge one clear of Fox with two to play before he landed a killer eagle on the par-5 17th to sprint three shots clear with the 18th to play.
There would be no final hole dramatics as the talented Pole two-putted from 25-feet for a 20-under total and a final round 66.
The 29-year-old is certainly a trailblazer for Polish golf having become the first player from Poland to secure a DP World Tour card when he graduated following a 2019 Challenge Tour campaign that included ten top ten finishes.
Meronk was the first male Polish player to compete in golf’s four Major Championships when he qualified for the 2021 U.S. Open
“It’s a relief I came close this year so to close it out in Ireland at such a special event is really special for me,” said Meronk who will move to career-high 61st in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Meronk had a sizeable Polish support in Mount Juliet as well as a strong backing from the Irish. His manager Kate Whyte hails from Ireland so he was kitted out in a green shirt with green trims on his golf shoes.
A win that he felt was coming.
“The spectators were amazing and I had a lot of Polish guys supporting me which made me feel really good I had a couple of chills after some putts so that was an amazing feeling.
“I had a good feeling about this week after a three-week break. I just focused on my game and stayed patient, finally it paid off.”
Now on the brink of the world’s top-50 Meronk has emerged as a potential Ryder Cup player for Europe in Rome next year and playing in next years edition ranks highly on his list of goals.
“It’s another step forward, my goals are quite high so this is great going forward and I am super excited for what is ahead and I will focus on the next few weeks which are very important.
“Definitely the Ryder Cup that is somewhere in my mind, that’s one of the goals.”
Elsewhere Pádraig Harrington, Seamus Power and Niall Kearney all finished strongly with rounds of 69, 68 and 70.
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