Lowry hits the front at PGA National

Mark McGowan

Shane Lowry (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Shane Lowry is just 18 holes away from a third PGA Tour victory after the Offaly man hit the front in the early stages of round three at the Cognizant Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach, Florida.

Back-to-back rounds of 67 on days one and two had him nicely placed going into moving day, and he went one better to post a five-under 66 and join a three-way tie alongside Austin Eckroat and unheralded Englishman David Skinns.

Rory McIlroy’s chances appear to be over after the Holywood man fell foul of the hazard on the 16th hole, leading to a triple-bogey seven that saw him plummet down the leaderboard having been within two of the top two holes previous.

Lowry’s round was bookended with birdies, the first coming after a laser-like pitching wedge to two-and-a-half feet and the last when his 30-yard splash shot from the bunker ran up and nestled three feet from the hole on the par-5 closer. In between, he gave a masterclass in ball striking, only missing two greens in regulation throughout.

After his birdie at the first, a sublime approach to the par-5 third set up a routine two-putt birdie from 15 feet and he added another at the fourth by rolling in a 21-footer to take a share of the lead at -11. He then navigated the five-through-seven stretch in level-par before disaster appeared to have arrived on the eighth when his double-crossed tee shot found the hazard and, after a penalty drop, had 141 yards from the rough. What followed was one of the best par saves you’ll see, clipping it to three feet and rolling in the putt to keep his card clean and make the turn at -3 for the day.

The par-5 10th is the easiest hole on the course and offered another routine, two-putt birdie, and he took sole possession of the lead, only to give that shot back on the 13th, making his only bogey of the day after coming up short with his wedge into the green and then missing from inside three feet.

In the group ahead, he watched McIlroy make a mess of 16 from his vantage point in the fairway, the took dead-aim at the back-right flag regardless and rolled in a six-footer to take back a share of the lead, before closing out with another birdie at the par-5 final hole.

“Yeah, it was pretty good,” was his understated assessment afterwards. “I started off like really well and got myself right into it and kept going. Hit some great shots when I needed to. 13 was very disappointing. But I feel like I was very proud of myself after that because sometimes I can lose it a little bit when I miss a short putt like that, and I felt from there on in, I hit the ball really well and I putted quite nicely coming in. I was very happy with how I reacted after that.

“You know when you go out on this golf course and this tournament that you’re going to face a bit of adversity somewhere, and I did a little bit today, and I felt like I dealt with it quite well.”

It’s clearly a course that Lowry loves, posting a top-five here last year – his best finish of the season on the PGA Tour – and was runner-up in 2022 when an untimely deluge on the final hole cost him the chance to go for the green in two, eventually losing by a shot to Sepp Straka.

“Yeah, it’s funny because I didn’t know Sepp at all at the time,” Lowry said. “I used to tell him at the Ryder Cup that I used to not like him after that tournament, and I’ve become really friendly with him now, and he’s a great guy, and I get on very well with him.

“I always say golf never owes you anything. I came up short that day. I’ve come up short before. I’ve been on the better end of things before.

“You just go out there and do your best and what will be will be sort of thing.”

Lowry will be in the final group alongside Skinns, with Eckroat in the group ahead paired with Jacob Bridgeman who’s in a share of fourth at -10, meaning the trio have a three-shot advantage over the field. But despite being the most experienced and successful of the three leaders, Lowry is taking nothing for granted.

“Look, every day is different,” he said. “I’ve obviously played quite well over the last few days. I’ll take nothing for granted. I’ll prepare as best I can in the morning, do the same thing I’ve been doing all week, and go out there and give it my best, and if my best is good enough tomorrow, that will be amazing. If not, we’ll be back to the drawing board on Monday.”

McIlroy’s frustrations were bubbling under the surface all day as a cold putter held him back on the front nine, making the turn at one-over thanks to a three-putt on the ninth. A back nine charge seemed on the cards when he birdied 10, then had back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13, the first thanks to a 23-footer and the second a tap in after a delicious approach, but he couldn’t get up-and-down from the bunker on 15, then pushed his approach to 16, finding the hazard but with enough of the ball in sight to temp him to play the shot anyway.

He didn’t get enough of the ball, and though it popped out, it bounced on the bank and fell back in, forcing a penalty drop for his fourth and the eventual seven dropped him back to +2 for the day.

Disaster holes on the back nine have been a recurring theme for the four-time major champion this season, and whilst you can never count him out, he’s going to need to do something very special if he’s going to have a say from six back going into the final round.


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