Jul 21st, 2019
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Lowry’s imperious 63 places him in control on day four
Words: GolfPunk Photography: Getty Images
Ireland’s Shane Lowry produced what he called "one of the most incredible days of my life" whilst shooting an eight-under-par new course record 63 that gives him a four-shot lead going into the final day of the Open at Royal Portrush and but for a couple of inches on the last it could have been five under! Englishman Tommy Fleetwood is the closest rival on 12 under after a 66 with JB Holmes third on 10 under. World number one Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose sit one further back but with tough weather conditions forecast for the final day it’s Lowry in control.
Amid scenes that are more suited to a final day or a football match the partisan crowd cheered their new hero so loudly that at points play had to wait for them to calm down as Fleetwood and Lee Westwood found after being forced to wait to tee off on the 18th hole. To be fair, Lowry gave them plenty to cheer about all day long as he built on two opening rounds of 67 and an overnight tied lead with Holmes.
Shane starting strongly with birdies on the par-3 third and par-4 fifth and never really looked back delivering eight birdies across the day and continuing his unreal greens in regulation performance landing 17 out of 18 to build on already impressive stats from the first 36 holes.
Lowry did have his share of luck, particularly on the 14th, when his wild drive was heading for deep cabbage patch instead, he managed to hit a spectator on the back of the neck, and land in the light stuff from which he was able to make par.
Most tellingly, had Lowry’s putt gone one inch extra at the 18th, as the entire gallery and surrounding hills thronging with supporters chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole” were willing it to, then his lead would have been five and those watching might have seen a near perfect round of golf and instead of one hand on the Claret Jug Shane might have had two!
However, Lowry needs no reminding, probably because everyone was quick to ask him about it, that he also led by 4 with 18 to play in the 2016 US Open at Oakmont and duly scored a six over closing round. Lowry seems pretty calm though and smiled when he said “When I finished, I looked at the leaderboard, four ahead, I said to [his caddie] Bo [Martin] ‘At least I won’t have to answer any questions about Oakmont, I’m four ahead going into the final round of a major,’”.
Should Lowry start to slip, he will find Tommy Fleetwood quietly waiting in the wings. Fleetwood shot what would on any normal day be an impressive 66 and had his putter not gone cold over the final 6 holes, resulting in six straight pars, the lead could have been very much closer if not the outright leader.
JB Holmes had to endure the Lowry show from his own very up close and personal vantage point and all credit to him he battled through. The American was with Lowry through 12, with 3 birdies and no shots dropped, but he bogeyed the 13th and 14th and at times seemed incredulous to his partners play and the noisy supporters.
Holmes birdied the last amid the chaos and must have had mixed feelings about how his joint overnight lead and a very respectable 69 results in him being six shots behind ahead of the final 18.
Also there or thereabouts are England's Justin Rose who threatened the leaders with an eagle on the par-five 12th followed by two birdies that propelled him up the leaderboard until a bogey on the par-three 16th meant he finished with a three-under 68 and will start Sunday alongside world number one Brooks Koepka whose round seemed to be a bit of a challenge resulting in him mixing up four birdies with two bogeys on the back nine before finishing birdie-birdie.
Lee Westwood briefly topped the leaderboard after a run of three successive birdies from the second, sparking hopes of the fairy tale that the 46-year-old might finally break his major duck. However, a carved drive into a bush at the 10th and an honest and classy acceptance of a penalty seemed to dent his confidence and, despite salvaging a good bogey, he also struggled at 15 and stumbled home in 37 to return a disappointing 70. His round ended on a high as his caddy and girlfriend Helen Storey got her now traditional post round kiss so who knows what might happen on the final day.
The one thing all of the leaders must fear is the weather as the ominous forecast has caused the R&A to move up final-round tee times with the final group teeing off at 1:47 p.m. Relatively docile conditions to date have not played as much of a factor as anticipated but with wind forecast to average 20mph and with gusts of up to 35mph alongside rain day four looks to be more challenging particularly with Royal Portrush’s elevated greens.
America’s Ricky Fowler said, “This golf course doesn't really give you the option of running golf balls up on a lot of greens unless you hit a really low and really hot one.” He continued “It benefits it if you can control it through the air. But you start talking with moisture and water on the face and on the golf ball you start losing control there because you can't spin it as much. It should be interesting. That's where it kind of gets fun.”
And another thing...