Ireland’s Shane Lowry won a see-saw battle with Richard Sterne, needing a birdie on the last hole to win the $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday.
Lowry held his nerves on the back nine to make up a deficit of four shots after losing a three-shot advantage early in the final round.
He closed with a one-under par-71 round for a one-shot win over Sterne, who shot a final round of 69.
It was Lowry’s first win since the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2015 and he is expected to rise to number 40 in the world ranking from his current 75.
Netherland’s Joost Luiten made two eagles in his round –- including a hole-out second shot on the par-four ninth hole -– to shoot a 65 on a windy Abu Dhabi Golf Club course to finish solo third at 15-under 273, one better than South African Louis Oosthuizen (66).
World number two Brooks Koepka (70) finished tied ninth on 277, which meant that England’s Justin Rose will remain the world number one irrespective of his finish this week on the US PGA Tour’s Desert Classic.
“It was an emotional roller-coaster today. I obviously went out with the lead by a few and before I knew it, I was four behind. I was brave out there today. I grounded out well and I’m over the moon,” said Lowry, who received $1.16 million for his fourth European Tour title but the first in which he led wire-to-wire.
“People looking from the outside probably thought I was gone, but I holed a couple of great putts on 12 and 13 and I knew I was in it then.
“I said to my caddie walking down 16 that (if I got) three fours on the last three holes we could have a shout here.
He said he had talked in depth with his coach Neil Manchip before the tournament “about hanging in and staying in there no matter what I do and no matter what I shoot and what shots I hit”.
He added: “It definitely helped me out there today.”
– Storming Sterne start –
Sterne was quick off the blocks and caught up with Lowry with birdies on his first three holes. The Irishman had also started with a birdie on the opening hole, but dropped a shot on the par-four third and found his three-shot advantage at the start of the day soon vanished.
Lowry regained the lead when he birdied his 10th par-three hole of the tournament on the fourth, but the South African chipped in for a birdie on the difficult par-four fifth hole playing into stiff headwind.
However, he did not enjoy the cushion for long and missed a par putt from a couple of feet on the sixth to tie again with Lowry on 17-under.
The tournament looked like becoming a two-horse race, with their closest rivals five shots behind at that stage, but the next two holes changed the equations completely.
Sterne birdied the par-five eighth hole to go one ahead. Lowry then hooked his tee shot straight into the water on the par-four ninth and wound up with a bogey, while Sterne made another impressive 15-foot birdie putt to go ahead by three at the turn.
The drama continued on the back nine. A bogey by Lowry on the 11th hole gave Sterne a four-shot advantage, but the burly Irishman bounced right back with back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th holes.
Sterne then dropped shots on the 14th and 16th and the duo headed to the 18th hole tied on 17-under par.
Both found the fairway, but the South African pushed his second shot into the cart path on the right. He failed to get his up-and-down from there, while Lowry, on the green in two, two-putted for the decisive birdie.
“I’m just glad that I gave a good performance this week with a strong field. It’s been a while since I’ve had a decent tournament, so I’m pretty happy with the way I performed,” Sterne said.
The win takes Lowry to the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, while Sterne’s long wait for a title — his last was at the Joburg Open in February 2013 — goes on.