** Update Shane Lowry won the Open Championship by 6 shots.
The heftiest and most raucous GAA crowd on the island was in Portrush rather than Croke Park yesterday. What they were treated to was a damn sight more entertaining too. Shane Lowry scythed his way through the field like a scalding hot bread-knife through butter. Thankfully the probiotic brigade still haven’t fully conquered the Offaly man.
An -8 under round of 63 gives him a 4 shot lead along with the Portrush course record. A final round awaits where the eyes of the world will once again be upon him. He’s had his dry run, at the 2016 US Open, where similarly Lowry held a 4 shot lead going into the final round. A last round 76 there saw a first major slip through his fingers. As good as his golf was then, I find it challenging to believe that he has ever put together 3 rounds (67, 67, 63) so elegantly and stress-free. He looked every inch a major champion yesterday.
On the rare occasions he was required to chip around these greens he looked crisp and natural. The contrast with his playing partner JB Holmes couldn’t have been more stark. Holmes putted everything that was within 20 yards of the green. Obviously not a fan of chipping from links turf. Quite why professional golf doesn’t have a rule against this is quite beyond me.
(Shane Lowry tees off at 1:47 pm local time on Sunday)
The crowds were boisterous and decidedly in Lowry’s favor right from the off. As the only player from the island of Ireland left standing, one with a realistic shot at winning, the crowds were all over him from the moment he stood on the 1st tee. The back 9 was the closest thing you’ll find to the second half of an All-Ireland final in another sport. Electric.
Shane Lowry served up as flawless a round of golf as the scorecard indicates. I can really only think of one badly wayward tee-shot he hit all day. His drive on 14 was way left but somehow managed to run from the the adjoining fairway cart path up onto a mound of wispy grass, where the ball obligingly sat up, and all but bent over begging to be spanked. Shane duly reddened it’s arse and sent it fizzing to the heart of green. Had it settled anywhere else within a 10 yard radius he was in double bogey territory.
That was the only slight worry on a day Lowry recorded 8 birdies and zero bogeys. In fact he probably left two birdies a begging on the front 9 such was his wizardry with his irons. A 94.4% greens in regulation statistic tells you he missed one green all day. Almost every iron was dialled into the correct area and level of each green. As I said stress free.
After that escape on the 14th I wondered how would he’d react to his first blip when it came but on this day there were no blips. Just champion golf.
Sunday at the Open brings all the attendant pressure. Sunday at this Open championship brings 5 times more for Shane Lowry. 50,000 people will be hitting each and every ball with him. He’s had his 2016 trial run. Now it’s time to take the chequered flag. The trajectory of his career will swing wildly one way or the other on this next round of golf. It’s as simple as that.
The foundation stone of Shane Lowry’s career as a professional was built on a day like today. As a 22 or 23 year old amateur he scorched the field with a 62 in the second round of the 2009 Irish Open. It too was sited on one of Ireland’s most fabled and respected links courses, a little over 100 miles away in Baltray.
The final day brought ups and downs for Lowry. The crowd swelled with pride and on occasion gasped in terror as Lowry and Robert Rock slugged it out down the back 9. At the end Lowry signed for a 71 that sneaked him into a playoff. As an amateur he wasn’t playing for 1st place prize money that day. He was playing for something much more important than that. A career as a professional golfer. Somehow, someway he got himself over the line.
The win exemption gave him a two year ride on the European tour and he’s never really looked back. He made a quantum leap that day. Tomorrow he needs to make another. I expect he will do so.
That Sunday in 2009 was typical links weather; wet with a fresh breeze. Tomorrow in Portrush is forecast the same if not a touch worse. A matching 71 would bookend the two pivotal days in his career nicely. If the forecast is correct a 71 will win I think. Perhaps win handily.
Back in 2009 Shane Lowry was an unknown quantity to the wider Irish sporting audience. The most common refrain going into that final round would have been
” Shane who is leading the Irish Open? ”
The simplest explanation at the time would have been to say that ‘Shane Who’ was Brendan Lowry’s son. Brendan the Offaly footballer and All Ireland winner. The father by far more famed, on these shores, than the son.
While many people in GAA circles still recognise Brendan Lowry, a decade on Shane Lowry needs little by way of introduction. He’s no longer Brendan Lowry’s son. Brendan is now Shane Lowry’s dad.
Hopefully father and son have another Sunday to remember.
Shane Lowry tees off at 1:47 pm local time on Sunday
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