When it was revealed The Open would be returning to Northern Ireland, no one knew quite what to expect 68 years after Royal Portrush last hosted golf’s original major.
But almost seven decades on from Max Faulkner’s success, the County Antrim venue delivered a week that will long be remembered as one of the best Championships ever.
Shane Lowry was the man who prevailed from a world-class field, with the man from the island of Ireland making the most of home advantage to win his maiden major title.
The County Offaly native’s success came courtesy of a 15-under par total, which included a new course record of 63, but he was not the only player to impress over the four days. In our latest deep dive into the stats from The 148th Open, here’s a look at the players who starred on the front and back nines and went low on the par 3, 4 and 5s at Royal Portrush.
Considered the easier of the two nines at Portrush, the front nine was targeted by players throughout the week as the place to get some early birdies in the bag. So it was no surprise to see the opening nine holes produce more birdies and eagles, with 722 birdies and 23 eagles compared to just 617 birdies and nine eagles on the way back.
Unsurprisingly, the 2019 Champion Golfer was one of the two players to go lowest on the front side, shooting 31 in his second round to match Jon Rahm’s front nine in the opening round.
Lowry birdied the first three holes before adding further birdies on the 5th and 8th, en route to a 67 on the Friday, giving him the co-lead alongside JB Holmes on eight-under overall. Meanwhile, Rahm birdied the 2nd, 4th and the final three holes in a row to seal a superb 31 on the way out in the first round, but a one-over back nine saw him finish with a 68.
The next best front nine was Kyle Stanley’s 32 in the second round, while Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele and Henrik Stenson were among the players to shoot 33 in round three.
Despite its status as the more formidable challenge, the back nine at Portrush actually produced the two lowest scores of the week as Ryan Fox and Lowry both made history.
New Zealander Fox etched his name into Open folklore on the Thursday by shooting the lowest back nine in the history of the Championship during his opening round.
Having struggled to +3 through 11 holes, he turned on the style with six birdies in the final seven holes to transform his scorecard as he posted a two-under 68. No one had ever shot sub-30 on the back nine at an Open before Fox produced his sensational run of red – gaining strokes on the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th to complete it in 29.
He was not the only player to take on the back nine, though, with Lowry shooting 30 as part of one of the great major championship rounds on Saturday, taking control of The Open with a 63.
A partisan crowd roared on the home favourite as he registered each of his eight birdies, which saw him take a four-shot lead over nearest challenger Fleetwood going into Sunday.
Elsewhere, round two saw Jim Furyk, Nate Lashley, Justin Harding, Schauffele and Rory McIlroy all post 31 on the back, with the latter just missing out on the cut despite a heroic effort.
While Lowry was good on the trio of par-5s at Portrush – the 2nd, 7th and 12th – it was the par-3s and par-4s where the Champion Golfer really excelled himself.
The Irishman was perfect on the par-3s in particular – not dropping a single shot on the 3rd, 6th, 13th or 16th and ending with a score of -4 over the course of the Championship.
Only one other player in the top 15, Lee Westwood, was as impressive on the par-3s, while seven of that 15 finished over par on the short holes.
Tony Finau ended third on his own despite shooting +3 on the par-3s, as the genial American took advantage of the par-4s (-4) and par-5s (-6) to post a total score of -7 for the Championship.
Although Westwood matched Lowry on the par-3s and par-5s by shooting four-under-par on each, it was on the par-4s that the veteran Englishman fell away – his +2 a full seven strokes worse than Lowry.
Despite eight bogeys on the par-4s across the course of the week, the Champion Golfer picked up a remarkable 15 birdies to shoot -7 on those holes – three shots better than anyone else in the top 15 and a full ten strokes better than Justin Thomas, who ended in a tie for 11th.
Lowry was solid on the longer holes too – going -4 on the par-5s for the week – but five men inside the top 15 shot six-under on those holes.
Fleetwood, Finau, Brooks Koepka, Robert MacIntyre and Danny Willett demonstrated their power to shine more than anyone on the big holes, yet it was ultimately Lowry’s finesse that won the day.