Lowry lauds “best level-par round” and McKibbin set to test himself against Scheffler

Mark McGowan

Shane Lowry playing from the bunker on the third hole at Pinehurst (Chris Keane/USGA)

Mark McGowan

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“That’s the best level par I have ever shot in my life, every shot is brutally difficult,” said an exhausted Shane Lowry after grinding out a 70 that would see him leap more than 20 spots up the leaderboard.

Highly-fancied by many on a golf course where even the purest of iron strikers were going to find themselves faced with daunting chip shots after falling victim to the many slopes and swales that surround the treacherous greens at Pinehurst No. 2, a shaky opening round was the main reason that he found himself just inside the cut mark after 36 holes.

But on Saturday, just seven of the 74 players in action scored lower as the firm greens, devilish pins were accompanied by just enough wind to make the tariff on accuracy and distance control even greater. Oh, and throw in temperatures in the early 30s just for good measure.

“I’m going to go home and lie on the couch for a couple of hours,” he joked. “Another round of level par [on Sunday] and it will be a great tournament I think. If I somehow manage to shoot under par it will be better obviously. All in all, it has been a good first three days. The tournament didn’t start the best, front nine on Thursday, but since then I have been pretty good.

“You have to be defensive in the right ways because in golfing terms it means playing away from the hole or playing away from the flag, but more often than not out there you are better off being short-sided. If you are on the long side, and if you get that a yard too hard you are gone off the far side, so if you are short-sided your bad shot is past the hole and it is 15, 20 feet for par. Out there you can deal with bogeys, you just can’t deal with doubles.”

Lowry’s round was one better than major debutant Tom McKibbin, who’s rolled home a clutch 16-footer for birdie on the 36th hole, knowing that it was make or break as he stood one shot outside the cutline back on the tee box.

“I think I would have been gutted if I’d missed the cut by one,” he’d said after Friday’s round, something that only makes sense to those who’ve come up agonisingly shy in similar situations. “I would rather have shot 80 and missed the cut by a mile. It was very important for me to experience these last few days here in a Major and I think it’ll do me well.”

He’s now eyeing a top-20 finish and there’s a good chance that a level-par round would be close, while something in red figures would be a big statement for the 21-year-old who looks set to become a regular fixture at golf’s four ‘Big Gun’ events.

The Holywood man covered the opening nine holes in three-over, but a bogey-free back nine that included birdies on the 12th and 15th holes set him up to head into the final round with the confidence that his game is more than capable of competing with the best players in the world.

And the cherry on top of the cake? A Sunday pairing with world number one Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler may not have had his best this week, but it wasn’t for the want of trying and he’ll be fully intent of breaking his over-par streak – currently at four rounds after closing with a 74 at Muirfield Village last week – so sizing up his own game against the current Masters champion is an added incentive.

McKibbin and Scheffler get underway at 15:20 Irish time, while Lowry goes out at 16:31 alongside another American in Zac Blair.

Rory McIlroy’s 17th hole bogey cost him a final grouping with Bryson DeChambeau, but tied for second and just three back on a course where no lead is safe, there is every chance that a strong final-round showing sees him end his decade-long quest for that elusive fifth major.

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