Shane Lowry’s return to the European Tour is hopefully headed for the spectacular reward of all four Majors this new year should he go ahead and capture the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Lowry will take a three-shot lead into Saturday’s final round after producing a gutsy third day 67 to brilliantly move to 17-under par in the UAE capital.
The Offaly golfer grabbed seven birdies, including three on the four par-3s, to remarkably be eight-under just on the par-3s for his three opening rounds and he has dropped in 21 birdies over his three loops with only four dropped shots in one of his most impressive 54-hole displays in some time.
Now after losing his PGA Tour card some four months ago at Greensboro in North Carolina, Lowry’s decision to contest the Abu Dhabi event for a first time in five years could pay immediate victory dividends in the $7m event.
Should Lowry claim just a fourth Tour win he will jump from 75th and into 40th on the World Rankings with the assurance of a return to Augusta National in April and entry into the other three Majors of 2019 including his big goal of teeing-up in The Open at Royal Portrush.
“I just need to go out and stay aggressive and just play my own game and try and make as many birdies as I can,” he said.
“That’s the way I play golf. If I can do that, hopefully I can be up there at the end of the day and give myself a chance coming down the last few.”
“Overall, I played good today. I felt very comfortable out there and very happy with that. So, I’m very excited about tomorrow.”
“I’m in a great position. It’s been a while since I’ve been up having a lead going into a last round. I’ll enjoy it. Have a nice dinner tonight and get ready tomorrow and give it my best and see what happens.”
Lowry is clearly benefitting also from having fellow Irishman Brian ‘Bo’ Martin on the bag.
Lowry went into day three just a shot clear of former Open Champion, Louis Oosthuizen and he fended off any charge from the South African with three straight birdies from the sixth.
If there was a pick of the seven birdie haul it was when he rolled-in a testing 15-footer at the par-3 seventh hole and then after dropping a shot at 16, he was in such good spirts after a birdie on 18 he stopped to have his photo taken with an Irish supporter clutching a baby.
“After hitting a pretty dodgy first putt there on 18 it was nice to hole that second one for birdie,” he said.
“I’m not going to say I feel invincible because we all know that this game is not easy, and it can jump up and bite you when you least expect it. So, I’m just trying to go out and do what I’ve been doing. I’ve been hitting some lovely iron shots. It just so happens that I’ve hit them on the par 3s and holed a few putts.”
“It just shows when I get myself in position, I can give myself chances and that’s kind of what I need to do.”
And singing the praises of Lowry was SKY Sports pundit, Paul McGinley.
“I’ve never seen anyone in my career play par threes as well as Shane has done as he’s off the charts on the short holes,” said McGinley.
“If he shoots 69, they have to shoot 65 or a 64 to catch him. So, the ball is in Shane’s court. He’s got the lead, the way he’s playing and his short game is spectacular.”
“This week, interestingly, he’s putted well in windy conditions and his chipping is superb. So even if he does miss greens, I expect him to get it up and down.”
“I think it’s going to be something extraordinary if he doesn’t win this tournament. I think he’s in great shape and mentally he is in the right place. So, he’s ready to win a tournament of this level.”
South African Richard Sterne (69) is second on 14-under par and with Ian Poulter eagling the last also in a 69 to be at 12-under par.