Tommy Fleetwood will channel the spirit of the Ryder Cup as he attempts to battle the weather and a fervent Irish crowd cheering on runaway Open leader Shane Lowry.
The Southport golfer, who was brilliant in scoring four points for Europe’s victorious team against the United States in Paris in September, was in the mix for 14 holes of his third round at Royal Portrush, just one adrift of the Irishman.
However, three birdies in four holes coming home for Lowry – roared on by ecstatic galleries packed full of fans from just across the border as well as thousands of locals – took the initiative away from Fleetwood.
The two will go head-to-head in Sunday’s final group and the Englishman knows he will be hopelessly outnumbered when it comes to support, having experienced a mere taste of what is to come playing in the flight ahead of Lowry on the third day.
“I’m happy to be in the mix, happy to play my part in the atmosphere today. The Ryder Cup is pretty much that with a few more people,” he said.
“For sure tomorrow playing with Shane it’s going to be more challenging to control yourself in the atmosphere and being in the middle of that but that’s what we’re here for.
“I’ve had my fair share of support for the first three days. Hopefully there will still be some people out there rooting for me (because) being in that group it’s going to be harder than (for) the rest of the field.
“But you play your game. You do your thing. I’m very, very happy to have that challenge.
“If you had said at the start of today, at the start of the week, at the start of the year, ‘You’re in the last group Sunday at The Open and playing with Shane, and the majority of the crowd might not be with you’, I would have said ‘Yeah, that’s fine’.
“I’m looking forward to it, to be honest with you. It’s going to be another chapter in my career, no matter what happens, and it’s going to be a very special day.”
The situation was somewhat harsh on Fleetwood, who was flawless in shooting a five-under par 66.
It just happened that Lowry was in the form of his life in carding a 63.
“I think the last three or four holes it was strange because I’d gone bogey-free, played really well and had my chances on 11, 14 and missed the (birdie) putt 17.
“It was almost like I can easily get frustrated because Shane is doing so well and how well he’s playing.
“But you have to look at it realistically. I had a great day. I had one of the best rounds of the day and I was bogey-free.
“Shane just played great and I’m four back. But that’s it, I’m just happy with how I played.”
With rain and wind gusting up to 30mph on Sunday, Fleetwood has to hope he can cope better than his playing partner, although he accepts Lowry has plenty of experience of dealing with tough conditions.
“I personally don’t mind the conditions, whatever they are. I feel like I’ve had some of my best rounds in terrible, terrible conditions, where I’ve enjoyed grinding it out,” added the Englishman.
“Shane has definitely not played in sunshine and no wind all his life so it’s not going to be a problem for him, either.”
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