“Every time I had a putt, I wanted to hole it because I wanted to hear that roar.”
The words of a smiling, almost disbelieving, Shane Lowry who will take a four-shot lead into the final round of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
Lowry played conductor to one of the most raucous orchestras to have ever followed a golf tournament; the hysteria echoing ’round the Dunluce Links after the Clara golfer fired eight birdies to produce the best round of the week, an eight-under par 63.
“I honestly can’t explain what it was like. I said to Beau [caddie] walking off the 17th tee, ‘we might never have a game of golf like this on a golf course again so let’s enjoy this next half an hour’. And that’s what I did and the crowd were incredible,” Lowry laughed, unable to contain his amazement.
The supporters could hardly contain it either. Well-oiled having waited patiently for Lowry’s 15.50 tee-time, they certainly made themselves heard, as Lowry can attest to!
“I thought I dealt with it very well today. Honestly, walking from the green to the next tee, people are literally a yard away from me roaring in your face as loud as they can. You have to go up then and try hit a drive down a tight fairway. It’s fairly difficult! But I thought I dealt with it fairly well and hopefully I’ll do the same tomorrow.”
Starting at eight-under par, Lowry picked up three gains to make the turn in 33 strokes, each one met with a cheer worthy of greeting the winning putt at any other tournament.
The best was still to come.
On 10, a first bogey of the day looked likely. Caught in the heavy rough and 190 out, Lowry needed some convincing from Beau to attempt the miracle approach shot when playing safe seemed sensible. But attempt it he did; Lowry putting all his weight behind an almighty stab that mounted the green and hugged the apron before it made its way to the hole as if being summoned by a magnet. It was the type of shot that would make you think that the tournament had been predetermined but Lowry still had to make a six-footer for birdie.
The energy from the crowd meant the little white ball disappearing was inevitable and the floodgates soon opened. A routine two-putt birdie at the reachable par-5 12th was followed by three more from 15-17 as the tune ‘ole, ole, ole, ole’ echoed through the air.
The only surprise was that he didn’t make another on 18; his 10-foot attempt brushing by the edge of the hole. But Lowry’s name appeared atop the leaderboard; 4 shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood at a lofty 16-under par. Four clear entering the final day of a Major. Where have we seen this before?
“I suppose, let’s get Oakmont out in the open here now,” Lowry said sternly, referring to the four-shot lead that he let slip in the final round of the US Open in 2016.
“I said it to Beau when I finished and looked at the leaderboard; ‘at least I won’t have to answer any questions about Oakmont now, four ahead!’ Obviously, I learned a lot that day, I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont and I’m going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow.
“I feel like – look, tomorrow’s a huge day in my career but it probably doesn’t mean as much to me now as it did then which is probably going to make it a little bit easier,” Lowry added, this time referring to the perspective he’s gained since becoming a husband and father.
“I think I learned a few things that day about playing 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 could happen and I’m going to do the same tomorrow. That’s a long time ago. I feel like I’m a different person. I don’t think I’m a much different golfer but I feel like I’m a different person now and that’s what’s going to help me tomorrow.”
Lowry will attempt to win his maiden Major title on Sunday playing alongside Tommy Fleetwood at 13.47.
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