There was always going to be a crackle in the air at Royal Portrush as its 68-year wait to host The Open came to an end.
But the electric atmosphere around the Dunluce Links surpassed even the wildest expectations and it fuelled Shane Lowry’s quest to become Champion Golfer of the Year.
Forget the warm applause that usually meets a birdie. On the weekend, it was more like a guttural roar every time Lowry found the hole or fairway as he romped to the title.
“It was incredible, right from the first hole,” the Champion Golfer said after his third round 63.
“The crowd did not seem that big around the third green but the roar that went up when I holed that putt and then another on 10 was incredible.
“You can’t but smile or but laugh at it. You can’t shy away from it, it is an incredible feeling to be applauded onto every green and every tee box. I am out there giving it my best for everyone.”
Despite being from the island of Ireland, Lowry was not the man most locals were desperate to see.
That man was Rory McIlroy, 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year, a four-time major winner and perhaps Northern Ireland’s greatest ever sportsman.
The ovation McIlroy received as he strolled onto the first tee box at around 10am on the first morning was similar to what he would have experienced walking down the 18th at Royal Liverpool en route to victory five years ago.
That can breed nerves though and McIlroy was errant with his first tee shot, blazing it out of bounds down the left.
He struggled to regain his composure from there and shot a 79, leaving his hopes in tatters.
However, the Royal Portrush crowd would not let that be it. McIlroy returned on Friday and produced one of the rounds of the week.
Roared on by the gallery, he attacked pins and dropped birdies on his way to a memorable 65 – finishing just one stroke off the cut.
“I am unbelievably proud of how I handled myself out there. I am full of gratitude to the people who followed me to the end and were willing me on,” he said.
“As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, by the end there I was doing it just as much for them as I was for me.
“Selfishly, I wanted to feel that support for two more days. But that was one of the most fun rounds of golf I have ever played.
“It is strange saying that, having had a bit of success and won this before, battling to beat the cut but to play in front of those crowds today and feel that momentum, you really dig in.”
Made in Portrush
One man who did make the weekend is Graeme McDowell.
The 2010 US Open champion is a member of Rathmore Golf Club and grew up playing on the Dunluce Links.
But his journey to The 148th Open was far from simple. With a world ranking heading in the wrong direction, McDowell had to fight tooth and nail to rediscover his form.
His hard work paid off when he qualified at the Canadian Open in June and he took that form into Portrush, where he made the cut. Nine strokes off the lead, he could relax ahead of his third round and it was only then that he could soak it all up.
“From the word go this morning, they were nine or ten deep down the first and second fairways. Without Rory and Darren [Clarke] not here, people focussed on me and Bubba Watson,” he said after his third round.
“It was a fun atmosphere, to have that Saturday looseness and be aggressive, we were able to feed off the crowd and you did not have that Thursday or Friday tightness to it.
“We didn’t have that three shots off the lead tightness either. We were nine back, relaxed and enjoying it. We took it all, the great crowds and support.”
'Good for golf'
Tommy Fleetwood must already be dreaming of The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.
The runner-up was one group ahead of Lowry during the third round and it was the Irishman’s 63 that created a carnival atmosphere.
Chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Lowry, Lowry’ could be heard across the golf course and Fleetwood will secretly be wishing it is he who is on the end of a similar reception in 12 months’ time – when he bids to become the first English winner on an English course in 51 years.
“It’s cool isn’t it, it’s a great atmosphere. It is great for the sport if people are watching this now and I am just happy to be playing my part in it,” he said.