LONDON -- Talk about your career-changing victories. Enduring another winless season on the European Tour this year, Shane Lowry had planned to fly to the United States a couple days ago and try his luck in the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School, which takes place this week. But on Sunday, he came from behind to win the Portugal Masters, which gave him a two-year exemption in Europe.
So, bye-bye Q-School, hello to a whole new life. Instead of grinding away in America, Lowry is taking this week off, and has earned spots in next week’s big-money Shanghai Masters and then the WGC-HSBC Champions in China the following week.
Rory McIlroy is in his 17th week atop the world rankings. Fred Couples held the top spot for 16 weeks two decades ago.
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Tiger Woods
3. Luke Donald
4. Lee Westwood
5. Justin Rose
6. Adam Scott
7. Bubba Watson
8. Webb Simpson
9. Brandt Snedeker
10. Jason Dufner
Lowry also vaulted up the world rankings – he began last week at No. 128, and ended it all the way up in 74th place.
Coincidentally, that is one spot better than Jonas Blixt, who jumped to No. 75 after beginning last week in 115th place thanks to his victory in the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open on Sunday.
There was no movement inside the top 10 of the ranking, since the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final exhibition last week was unofficial and awarded no world ranking points. Rory McIlroy maintains a substantial lead over Tiger Woods, with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood behind him.
Justin Rose, who won $1.5 million in Turkey, is fifth, with Adam Scott sixth, Masters champion Bubba Watson seventh and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson eighth. Rounding out the top 10 are No. 9 Brandt Snedeker and No. 10 Jason Dufner.
The second 10 includes No. 11 Steve Stricker, No. 12 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 13 Matt Kuchar (up from 15th), No. 14 Dustin Johnson (down from 13th), No. 15 Keegan Bradley (down from 14th), No. 16 Zach Johnson (up from 17th), No. 17 Phil Mickelson (down from 16th), No. 18 Graeme McDowell, No. 19 Sergio Garcia and No. 20 Hunter Mahan.
Blixt became the third rookie to win on the PGA Tour this season when he sank a 4-foot par putt on the final hole for a one-stroke victory in the Fall Series event at CordeValle. He earned $900,000 and an exemption through the 2014 season.
''The weird part is I've been working on some stuff with my swing, and I wasn't feeling completely 100 percent about my swing,'' Blixt said. ''I just told myself, 'Just give it a good hit every time and see what happens. Just focus. You can't do anything better than your best.' That's what I did on every shot.''
Blixt made a 9-foot birdie putt on the par-5 15th to gain a share of the lead for the first time, then holed a 7 1/2-footer on the short par-4 17th to pull ahead. He set up the birdie on 17 with an approach shot from the rough.
Two strokes behind third-round leader John Mallinger entering the round, Blixt birdied the first two holes, but gave back the strokes with bogeys on the next two. The 28-year-old former Florida State player made a birdie on the par-4 sixth, then had eight straight pars before the birdie on 15.
Blixt was making his 19th PGA Tour start. He finished third the previous week in Las Vegas.
''You learn something every time,'' Blixt said. ''Last week I didn't play very well in the final round. I got a little too cute with some shots and wasn't aggressive enough.''
The other rookie winners this year are John Huh in the Mayakoba Golf Classic in February and Ted Potter Jr. in The Greenbrier Classic in July.
Lowry also came from behind in his victory in Portugal. He started the final round four shots off the lead, but made an eagle on the par-4 11th to move ahead of overnight leader Bernd Wiesberger. Lowry then traded the lead with Ross Fisher before taking advantage of Fisher's bogey on the 16th with a birdie on the 17th hole.
Fisher had one last chance after Lowry bogeyed the 18th, but the Englishman also had a bogey to allow Lowry to claim his second career European Tour win – his first came three years ago as an amateur in the Irish Open.
''I cannot believe this,'' Lowry said. ''I can't explain how I feel, really. It's a dream come true; I'm over the moon. I thought this could be my day, and thankfully it is.''