Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry win 2024 Zurich Classic of New Orleans in playoff

The cream finally rose to the top at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

In a city where celebrity chefs like the late Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse rule, past major winners and European Ryder Cup stars Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry teamed up to take the title with a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff on Sunday in Avondale, Louisiana.

McIlroy, No. 2 in the world, and Lowry, No. 39, needed a birdie at 18 to finish with a 72-hole total of 25-under 263 and force a playoff with Chad Ramey and Martin Trainer who finished their round two hours and 59 minutes earlier after shooting a tournament-tying 9-under 63 in the alternate-shot format employed in the final round.

McIlroy earned his 25th career Tour title, tying Tommy Armour, Johnny Miller and Macdonald Smith for 23rd on the all-time Tour wins list.

“To win any PGA Tour event is very cool, but to do it with one of your closest friends, we’ve known each other for a long, long time, probably like over 20 years, so to think about where we met and where we’ve come from, to be on this stage and do this together, really, really cool journey that we’ve been a part of, and yeah, just awesome to be able to do it alongside this guy,” McIlroy said.

On paper, the playoff was a mismatch of epic proportions. Ramey, 31, entered the week ranked 233rd in the world and outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings, his lone win at the opposite-field Corales Puntacana Championship in 2022.

Trainer, 33, won the 2019 Puerto Rico Open but has struggled so much in the ensuing years that he considered finding another line of work. He entered the week ranked 387th in the world and 171st in the FedEx Cup standings. With both in need of a partner last year, they joined forces and recorded a top-10 finish at the Tour’s lone official team event during the FedEx Cup season.

“So decided to run it back this year, and I feel like we have a good thing going,” Trainer said.

On a windswept Sunday, they combined to make 11 birdies, including at the first five holes on the back nine and take the clubhouse lead.

“We just had it going so well,” Trainer said. “I don’t want to take all the credit for the putting because Chad also putted extremely well, but it worked out so good.”

Ramey agreed that Trainer’s putter was deadly and the birdies kept piling up.

“I finally had to putt on hole 13 or 14 and I hadn’t putted since the second hole,” Ramey said. “I was just trying to give Martin some good looks.”

Then they had time for lunch and waited as Ryan Brehm and Mark Hubbard (69), who finished third, gave it their best shot. Hubbard credited a text from his brother on Saturday night that helped pump him up about playing in the second-to-last group with McIlroy and Lowry, telling him to treat it as his personal Ryder Cup. “This is about the closest thing certainly that I’ve had so far in my career. I definitely took that to heart and tried to be really grateful for that opportunity today to kind of feel what that might feel like, playing against an all-Euro team and that crazy format. Alternate shot is just so stressful,” Hubbard said.

Narrowly missing out on joining the playoff when Brehm’s 10-foot birdie putt from the fringe at the last burned the right edge couldn’t spoil what still amounted to a successful partnership.

“We’re still going to party tonight,” Hubbard added.

For much of the day, it looked like 54-hole leaders Zac Blair and Patrick Fishburn, who grew up playing together in Ogden, Utah, and had been teammates in junior high, high school and and college at BYU, would both be celebrating their first Tour victories. However, they made a double bogey at a par 3 on each side, the latter at the 17th hole and it sealed their fate, a fourth-place tie (72).

McIlroy and Lowry entered the day trailing by two and their hopes for wearing the belts awarded to the champions became dicier after making bogey on two of their first three holes. But they bounced back with four birdies in a five-hole stretch starting at the seventh and played the last 12 holes in 5 under.

“It showed a lot about our characters and how much we wanted to win this thing,” Lowry said.

None of it came easily, including at 13 when McIlroy had to play from 111 yards in a sand-filled divot at 13 and chunked it. Still, they salvaged par. At 14, McIlroy drew a beauty at the par 3 that stopped 10 feet past the hole and twirled his club in satisfaction, but Lowry, who switched putters this week and admitted he never fully trusted the club, misread the putt. At 16, McIlroy drove into a fairway bunker but Lowry wedged from 133 yards to 10 feet – “pulled it a bit,” he said – and McIlroy clenched his fist when the birdie putt dropped to make it a three-way tie at the top. Just when they seem poised to put the tournament away, Lowry missed the 17th green wide right and they failed to rescue par and dropped one stroke behind again. But McIlroy’s pitch from left of the green at the par-5 18th hopped and stopped 3 feet from the hole for the tying birdie and a round of 4-under 68.

The playoff, which returned to 18, lasted just one hole because Trainer duffed a chip for his team’s third shot and after making putt after putt all day, he failed to convert a 6-foot par putt to keep their dream of winning alive. Trainer looked up to the sky in dismay, knowing he had pushed the putt right of the hole.

“Golf is hard, and sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” he said.

It marked the first win of the Tour season for McIlroy, who had recorded just one top-10 finish to date at the Valero Texas Open earlier this month, and the first victory for Lowry since claiming the 2019 British Open. (The latter also became exempt for the final three Signature events.)

“We felt like coming into the week that we both could do with a big jump in the FedEx Cup, and we both said at the start of the week, let’s go and get 400 points each. That’s what we’ve done, and I nearly feel a little bit bad taking them because Rory carried me a lot of the way. But yeah, they’re mine, and they’re not going away,” Lowry said.

From playing together in junior golf to the Ryder Cup and now winners at the Zurich Classic, Lowry and McIlroy have shared a special bond.

“Anytime this man wants to partner with me, I’ll be happy to do so,” Lowry said.

“I’d say we’re going to come back and defend next year; what do you think?” McIlroy said to his partner.

“I hope so,” Lowry said. “I’ll be here.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek