Lowry thrills Irish fans, but tall task remains
July 20, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Shane Lowry will take a four-shot lead into the final round of The Open Championship. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – After sending Shane Lowry off the 18th green with a standing ovation, the fans jammed against a white fence to watch him fulfill the customary duties of a 54-hole leader.
His countrymen stood 20 deep, craning for a view of their hero. Others climbed atop a small hill to catch a glimpse as he did his post-round interviews. An Irish flag was hung from the temporary barrier that stood between them and the man who’d just set the course record at the renovated Royal Portrush that is hosting this week’s Open Championship. The crowd cheered and chanted, heartily singing, “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and “If you love Shane Lowry, clap your hands.”
They were celebrating as if Lowry already had the Claret Jug in his hands. He thrilled them with a back-nine 30, including birdies on Nos. 15-17, but The Open is still far from being decided.
Lowry will start Sunday with a four-shot lead over England’s Tommy Fleetwood and six-shot advantage over the next player on the leaderboard, J.B. Holmes.
Lowry’s 16-under 197 is the lowest 54-hole score in The Open’s history. He leads the field in greens hit, missing just nine in three rounds. His play has been impressive, but he knows first-hand what can happen in the final round. Lowry has led a major on one other occasion, losing a four-shot lead in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
He is playing on home soil this time. The reception Lowry received around the grounds of Royal Portrush showed the unifying power of sport. There has been a lot of talk this week about Ireland’s sectarian divide and this Open’s greater significance, but none of that mattered Saturday. Lowry and his Northern Irish caddie represent the last local hope for the fans, and they did their best to carry him across the line.
A day earlier, those same fans tried to cheer Rory McIlroy to the correct side of the cut line. They had to watch as Darren Clarke tripled the last hole to miss the cut. Portrush member Graeme McDowell is still around but out of contention. The crowd’s full force will be behind Lowry.
“It’s going to be nuts,” his caddie, Bo Martin, said.
Such energy and enthusiasm can either be a help or a hindrance.
“Walking from the green to the next tee, the people are literally a yard away from you roaring in your face as loud as they can,” Lowry said. “If you have to get up and hit a drive down a tight fairway, it's fairly difficult. I thought I dealt with it very well today and hopefully I do the same tomorrow.”
He’ll have enough on his hands. Sunday’s forecast calls for high winds and rain. The forecast is ominous enough for tee times to be moved earlier. From underneath his umbrella, Lowry will have a view of this era’s dominant force in the majors. Brooks Koepka will play alongside Holmes in the second-to-last group. Koepka and Rose, the reigning FedExCup champion, are tied for fourth, seven shots off the lead.
“There's a good leaderboard behind me,” Lowry said. “We'll see what happens.”
Lowry shot 76 in that final round at Oakmont, finishing three shots behind Dustin Johnson. Lowry says he gave up too quickly when things went south. He bogeyed four of the first 10 holes, but a birdie at 12 put him at 4-under-par, the eventual winning score. Three consecutive bogeys after that resigned him to second place.
Lowry knew before he left the 18th green Saturday that he’d face questions about the biggest disappointment of his career. He’s a different man than he was 3 years ago, though. Golf is less important because he knows his wife, Wendy, and 2-year-old daughter, Iris, will be waiting for him behind the 18th green, regardless of the result.
“I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont,” Lowry said. “I'm going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow. Tomorrow is a huge day in my career. But it probably doesn't mean as much to me as it did then, which is going to make it a little bit easier.
“I think I learned a few things that day about playing in the final round of a major with a lead, that you need to just hang in until the very last minute. You never know what can happen. And I'm going to do the same tomorrow.”
A win earlier this year in Abu Dhabi – his first since he won his lone PGA TOUR title, at the 2015 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational – also will help him Sunday. He started the day with a three-shot advantage, but trailed by as many as four shots during the final round. His one-shot victory showed him a mettle that he didn’t know he possessed.
“The one thing I got from Oakmont is I laid down and I didn't show any fight or bottle there. I did that today,” he said after the victory.
Lowry, the son of a famous Gaelic footballer, has won in front of the home fans before. He was still an amateur when he won the 2009 Irish Open. Now he’ll try to take the same carefree attitude he had back then into the final round of the game’s oldest championship.
“Obviously there's big consequences tomorrow, but you need to play like there's no consequence,” he said. “Like, what's the worst thing that can happen?”