Ireland’s Shane Lowry tried to grasp what position he is in after taking command of the 148th Open at Royal Portrush.
Roared on by a capacity crowd, Lowry carded a stunning third round of 63 to finish 16 under par, four shots ahead of England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
“No matter what happens I’m going to be either standing there with the trophy or it’s going to be a disappointing day,” the 32-year-old said after his third round.
“And it’s going to be the same thing tomorrow. Yeah, maybe that’s why it doesn’t… it’s weird to say it doesn’t mean as much, because it’s not far off. But like, if you know what I’m saying, that’s kind of the way… I don’t really know what I’m saying, to be honest.
“It’s been a long day, lads. You get me?”
Three years after taking a four-shot lead into the final round of the US Open, Ireland’s Shane Lowry has the same advantage heading into the last day of the 148th Open after a sensational performance at Royal Portrush.
Roared on by a capacity crowd, Lowry carded a stunning eight-under-par 63 to get one hand on the Claret Jug as he tries to become only the fifth Irish winner of the Open after Fred Daly, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy had set the course record of 61 at Portrush as a 16-year-old amateur but Lowry’s 63 established a new one for the revised layout and a birdie on the 18th would have equalled the lowest round in major history set by Branden Grace at Birkdale in 2017.
Lowry’s long-range attempt trickled agonisingly past the hole, but the 32-year-old from Offaly understandably could not wipe the smile from his face as chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’ rang out from the grandstands.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood is Lowry’s nearest challenger on 12 under par after carding a bogey-free 66, with JB Holmes two shots further back and world number one Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose seven off the lead on nine under.
“My mind’s still a bit fuzzy,” said Lowry, whose 54-hole total of 197 eclipsed the previous Open record of 198 set by Tom Lehman at Royal Lytham in 1996.
“I really enjoyed today, obviously I played great golf and the crowd were incredible. Every time I got a putt I wanted to hole it and hear that roar again. I said to Bo (Martin, his caddie) walking off 17, ‘We might never experience anything like the next half-hour again, so let’s make the most of it’.
“I just felt so comfortable out there and hope I do tomorrow. I have a tough 24 hours ahead of me, but there’s nowhere I would rather be. I have a four-shot lead in an Open in Ireland. Tomorrow is going to be incredible no matter what happens.”
Asked about losing that four-shot lead at Oakmont in 2016, Lowry added: “I hope I’m going to be able to deal with it better. I know it’s going to be difficult and hard but hopefully I am ready for it.”
With the final groups unexpectedly getting the best of the weather, low scoring was essential and Lowry did not take long to get into red figures, a superb tee shot on the par-three third setting up a birdie from close range.
Lowry also birdied the fifth and ninth to reach the turn in 33 and move into the outright lead, although Fleetwood was playing equally well and his fourth birdie of the day on the 10th got him back on level terms.
In the group behind, Lowry used a combination of luck, judgement and the contours of the 10th green to fashion another birdie and edge in front again, but Fleetwood responded immediately on the par-five 12th.
Lowry two-putted the same hole for his fifth birdie of the day and then enjoyed a huge slice of luck on the 14th, where an errant drive was heading for dense undergrowth only to hit a male spectator on the back of the neck and land in light rough.
From there Lowry was able to make par and he took full advantage with birdies on the 15th and 16th, the latter courtesy of a stunning tee shot to seven feet on a 232-yard par-three which fully deserves its name ‘Calamity’ due to the danger lurking to the right of the green.
Lowry was not done there and chipped to two feet to set up a final birdie of the day on the 17th, Fleetwood unable to close the gap after completing his round with six straight pars.
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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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