The Open: Shane Lowry and JB Holmes share lead at Royal Portrush

Phil Casey 23:14 19/07/2019
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Ireland's Shane Lowry.

A year after sacking his caddie following his fourth straight missed cut in the Open, Ireland’s Shane Lowry will take a share of the lead into the third round of the year’s final major.

Lowry carded a second consecutive 67 at Royal Portrush to join American JB Holmes on eight under par, with Tommy Fleetwood – who could follow Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari in lifting the Claret Jug – and Lee Westwood a shot behind.

Olympic champion Justin Rose is a stroke further back alongside Cameron Smith and Justin Harding, with world number one Brooks Koepka ominously poised on five under in pursuit of a fifth major win in his last 10 starts.

Former champion Jordan Spieth was alongside Koepka after a 67, but Tiger Woods missed the halfway cut despite battling back from his worst ever opening round in the Open with a battling 70.

Lowry, who had stormed into a two-stroke lead with six birdies in his first 10 holes before dropping shots on the 14th and 18th, said: “I had a great time today, it was just unbelievable. One of those days where you find yourself pinching yourself.

“I can’t explain how good the crowds were, a day that I’ll remember. Walking down 18 was something special. I’m a bit disappointed to bogey the last but I’m right where I wanted to be and delighted with my two days’ work.

“I’m in a great position going into the weekend of an Open Championship but there’s two long days left. There are times when it’s not going to be easy and I’ve just got to take it on the chin.”

Asked about the enormous support he will receive over the weekend, the 32-year-old from Offaly added: “Next week I’l be in Memphis and there’ll probably be 10 men and a dog following me. Tomorrow there’s going to be thousands cheering me on so I’m going to enjoy it.”

Fleetwood was expected to contend for one of the game’s biggest prizes this year after his consistent displays in 2018, the Ryder Cup star finishing 17th in the Masters, second in the US Open – after a record-equalling 63 in the final round – 12th in the Open and 35th in the US PGA.

However, so far this season his best result is a tie for 36th at Augusta National and the 28-year-old also failed to convert good chances to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship earlier in the year.

A bogey on the first was quickly cancelled out by a birdie on the par-five second and Fleetwood also picked up shots on the fifth, 12th, 13th and 15th before bouncing back from a bogey on the 16th to birdie the last.

“Yesterday I felt like it was a lot more stress-free, today I made two or three really good par saves but I am happy with the challenge,” said Fleetwood, who partnered Molinari to four wins out of four at Le Golf National last year.

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Open champion Francesco Molinari happy to fly under the radar

Press Association Sport 09:39 15/07/2019
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Open champion Francesco Molinari is happy to arrive at Royal Portrush under the radar as he begins the defence of his title.

The Italian is the most unassuming winner since Zach Johnson in 2015 and despite his Ryder Cup heroics probably has the lowest public profile since Louis Oosthuizen nine years ago.

However, rather unlike Brooks Koepka, who was outspoken about the lack of respect he was given just before winning his fourth major in May, Molinari is happier not being in the headlines.

“Maybe part of it is my personality, not really caring too much about being in the spotlight,” said the 36-year-old, who has cemented his place in the world’s top 10 since his maiden major victory at Carnoustie.

“Part of it is being Italian. An American or British player is always going to naturally get more attention.

“I don’t mind that, it can only be good for myself as there is a little less pressure from the outside. I don’t mind it at all.

“I enjoy the support of the crowds and at something like the Ryder Cup last year wouldn’t have been the same without the involvement of the crowd.

“Walking through the station in Paris (the day after winning back the trophy) that stays with you forever and you never forget.

“I enjoy my time on the range and the course, preparing, and one of the challenges for me has been to balance the more time doing other stuff as it is less time preparing or with your family.

“Family comes first and then I feel like I need to work hard to perform at a high level.

“It is never going to be you get all the results and no attention, it is about finding the right balance but for me it is about less attention than the other guys.”

Molinari could have arrived in Portrush as a two-time major winner had things gone better for him at Augusta where he led the Masters going into the final day and was two clear with seven holes remaining only to collapse and hand victory to Tiger Woods.

It was a chastening experience for the likeable Italian, who found the water twice on the back nine.

“In some ways (having already won a major) might have made the disappointment a little bit bigger: at that time I wasn’t able to close it out,” he said.

“But to be honest I don’t think it would’ve changed a lot. In any sport it is never easy to take a loss like that.

“But you try to analyse what happened and try to move on and ideally put yourself in that position again as soon as possible to prove you can do better than you did that time.”

Molinari’s only other appearance at Portrush was in the 2012 Irish Open where he finished in a tie for 10th.

Molinari was one of Europe's major heroes at the Ryder Cup.

Molinari was one of Europe’s major heroes at the Ryder Cup.

The atmosphere, rather than his performance, is what stuck in his mind from that trip when he played with Portrush resident and then defending Open champion Darren Clarke.

He expects it to be even better as the Open returns to the course for the first time since 1951 with Rory McIlroy and fellow Northern Irishman and Portrush-born Graeme McDowell the home favourites.

“I remember the first hole: people both sides of the fairway all the way to the green, rows of people. I guess it will be similar for Rory and GMac,” he said.

“I think with the Open not being there for so many years it will be a great atmosphere for everyone.

“For the Irish people to have the Open back they’ll enjoy every single moment of it.”

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Tommy Fleetwood keen to keep perspective as he eyes Open Championship title

Press Association Sport 15:23 14/07/2019
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Tommy Fleetwood is determined to keep a sense of perspective as he looks to end the major season on a high at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

Fleetwood was expected to contend for one of the game’s biggest prizes this year after his consistent displays in 2018, the Ryder Cup star finishing 17th in the Masters, second in the US Open after a record-equalling 63 in the final round, 12th in the Open and 35th in the US PGA.

However, so far this season his best result is a tie for 36th at Augusta National and the 28-year-old also failed to convert good chances to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship earlier in the year.

“It’s easy to say it’s disappointing but there’s no disasters going on,” Fleetwood told PA after a tie for 23rd in the Irish Open.

“I’ve not got loads out of the week and it’s easy to be disappointed but you have to keep perspective.

“It’s not like I’ve missed the cut by a mile and am going home trying to reinvent the wheel.

Tommy Fleetwood of England 2

“I felt a lot more comfortable with my long game and I don’t like being that person who is frustrated out on the course because I always feel I have a good sense of what’s good and bad.

“It’s just that when you know you’re capable of more and you’re not quite doing it, it’s difficult.

“I know the Open is around the corner but whether it happens next week or further down the line, there’s always massive things to play for and you just have to be patient and keep going and, more importantly, enjoy the game.”

Fleetwood followed his week at Lahinch with a trip to Wimbledon on Monday and watched the Centre Court action from the Royal Box.

“(Roger) Federer is the only one I haven’t seen play so that’s my life complete,” he said, before heading home to Southport to practice.

His previous experience of Royal Portrush in the 2012 Irish Open is a “bit of a blur” as it came during his first full year on the European Tour, but Fleetwood will still expect to improve on his major performances in Northern Ireland.

“I’ve done well in them in the past and at certain times this year I’ve been really good in the majors,” Fleetwood added.

“At the Masters I was not at my best game-wise but after two days I still had a good chance. The last day I was around top 10, top 15 having a really good Sunday, but backed up on the back nine.

“In the PGA for 30 holes I was the second best player in the field, for the last 42 I was probably the worst. At the US Open I struggled again but it’s four tournaments of a year.

“Those are the ones you want to perform in and I can look at the positives but the overall aspect is that it’s not been good enough. But I’d quite happily take the three finishes I’ve had so far and a win at the Open.”

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