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The 148th Open Royal Portrush

The 148th Open


An oral history of the final round at Royal Portrush

“I couldn't believe that it was me. I couldn't believe it was happening.”

It’s no wonder that Shane Lowry struggled to comprehend what he had just done.

Sat next to the Claret Jug, the man from the isle of Ireland was speaking to the assembled press – who were waiting on his every word – as the 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year.

He had not just achieved the greatest feat of his golfing career, he had done it at a canter. Six shots separated the 32-year-old from his nearest competitor after 72 holes of the Dunluce Links.

But the leaderboard only told half of the story. It didn’t, for example, tell of how he had woken up that morning questioning whether he was good enough to win a major championship.

It also failed to shed light on his previous disappointments that weighed heavily on his mind. The final round capitulation in the US Open at Oakmont in 2016. Or his four consecutive missed cuts at The Open.

What the leaderboard did show, though, was how brutal Portrush had been on the final day. And as the year comes to an end, hear from the voices who experienced that memorable round.

Prologue: Disappointment and doubt

Lowry: “I suppose I didn't even know going out in the morning if I was good enough to win a major. I knew I was able to put a few days together. I knew I was able to play the golf course.”

The leader arrived at Portrush on Sunday morning with a four-shot advantage over Tommy Fleetwood after shooting an historic 63 a day earlier to take control of The 148th Open.

But he’d been in a similar position before. The County Offaly native had also led by four going into the final round at the 2016 US Open before a 76 ended his chances of a first major title.

In fact, winning a major was the last thing on Lowry’s mind a year earlier at Carnoustie, where he had missed his fourth Open cut in a row after rounds of 74 and 73.

Lowry: “Golf is a weird sport and you never know what's around the corner. That's why you need to remind yourself, and you need others there to remind you. You need to fight through the bad times.

“I sat in the car park in Carnoustie on Thursday, almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried. Golf wasn't my friend at the time… What a difference a year makes, I suppose.”

Drama ensues at the 1st hole

Adverse weather meant tee times for final round were brought forward and while those out early enjoyed better conditions, the later groups were entering the eye of the storm.

And nerves appeared to take hold of Lowry on the opening hole, tugging his first tee shot into the rough before hitting his second into one of the greenside bunkers.

Lowry: “I had a nice healthy lead going out and I hit a ropey tee shot on the 1st. I hit actually a decent second shot but it didn't go as far as I thought it was going to go.

“Then you're standing on the 1st green, Tommy has a great chance of birdie and I'm putting for bogey from eight feet. There's a potential three-shot swing.

“He misses, I make, and there's only one shot. That settled me an awful lot.”

Shane Lowry hitting a shot in front of a huge crowd

Fleetwood: “He never lost control of himself. He made some key putts at key times, even down to the 1st hole, you know. I hit two great shots on the 1st.

“If you look at it, I have six or seven feet for birdie, he had six or seven feet for bogey, I hole, he misses, and we've got a one-shot gap, and that's only after one hole.”

Padraig Harrington: “When he holed that putt for bogey at the 1st, he probably went to the second tee feeling like he won the first hole.”

Battling the elements at the turn

With the early jitters out of the way, Lowry steadied the ship with three birdies in four holes but as he reached the turn level par for his round the weather began wreak havoc on the field.

Lee Westwood (who finished tied-4th): “Everything was hard. Driving was hard. It was hard to get in the fairways. Iron shots, hard to control the distances. Putting was really tricky.

“There's some really exposed greens out there. You find yourself giving it a couple of foot for the breeze and it doesn't move, and on the next it takes it sideways. So that's frustrating.”

Lowry: “Around the turn, I had a look at a few leaderboards, and it was so hard out there.

“When that big shower came in on the 8th, the 9 tee shot was just like put the ball down and hope for the best because it was incredible, the rain that was coming down.”

Fleetwood: “I think when we got on 8, 9, 10, just shocking, shocking weather. It was really, really difficult. I made a par on 9 that felt like a birdie. It was just tough.”

Rickie Fowler (who finished tied-6th): “This is probably one of the hardest tests as far as with this condition, just because this golf course, how penal it is on both sides of the fairways.

“Maybe not blowing as hard as I've seen it blow in an Open, but probably some of the hardest conditions I've seen, just because of the golf course and the way it is.”

Jon Rahm (who finished tied-11th): “I will say this is proper Open weather to become a champion. Rain, wind, difficult. Whoever gets to do it, they will be called a champion.”

Fleetwood hopes ended on 14th

Standing on the 14th tee, with the weather still causing all kinds of problems, the Claret Jug was still in the balance with four shots separating Lowry and Fleetwood.

Fleetwood: “I think 14 was just a bit of a killer blow, really. I hit a really good tee shot. After struggling through the middle of the round with my game.

“And when the weather came in, I missed a short putt on 10. I played 11 great, 12 great, 13 I hit an okay shot, it's hard to hold that green, good chip and putt on 14.

“Then you end up in the bunker, and you have to push something. Like a poor second shot out of the bunker. Such a difficult hole if you're out of position that one.”

Shane Lowry fist pumping after holing a putt

Bo Martin (Lowry’s caddie): “I never thought about the lead at all. We could see the way Tommy [Fleetwood] was playing, we could see the way that we were playing.

“We knew what we had to do. We said on 14 ‘let’s finish with four pars’. It doesn’t matter what the score is; that’s all you can do. You can’t think, ‘we’ve got a five-shot lead I have got to do this’.

“You have to do the right things, make the right choices, go through the right processes and slow it down. We slowed down after 13, your mind does race a little bit.”

Lowry: “To be honest, I played the last five holes, I thought I played – even though I bogeyed 14 – I thought I played the last five holes incredibly well. And I felt incredibly good.

“I felt like I was going to do it, especially after 14 when Tommy went double, I went bogey. But I went five ahead with four to play.”

That walk down the 18th hole

With a six-shot lead going down the 18th hole, Lowry could afford to enjoy himself down the last and soak up the atmosphere as the jubilant spectators celebrated his success.

Martin: “We were just laughing, ‘how mental is this? What are these people like, they’re crazy’.”

Lowry: “It was just incredible to walk down 18. The crowd is going wild and singing ‘Ole, ole’ or something like that – I just couldn't believe it was happening to me.

“It was nice, very nice of Paddy [Padraig Harrington] and G-Mac [Graeme McDowell] to be standing on the back of the tee for me. And obviously to have all my friends and family.”

Harrington: “When you look back, he was never in trouble. He made some bogeys, but he never looked like he was taking any more than a bogey out there. He’s got a strong game for these conditions.”

Martin: “I told him to just stand there, have a look around and enjoy this. We enjoyed it going down 17. In fact going down 17 [on Saturday] he said to me, ‘let’s enjoy the next 30 minutes’. And that was Saturday. It was awesome. Then we did the same again. He said the exact same thing.”

Lowry: “I spotted my family when I walked around the corner to have a look where the flag was, and I spotted them all at the back of the green. To be honest, I welled up a little bit.

“Bo told me to catch a hold of myself, I still have to hit a shot. Thankfully I hit a decent shot in there and two-putted. I walked down there and I tried to soak it in as much as I could.

“It was hard to soak it in because it's very surreal. It's a very surreal experience going down there especially as I'm sure there was a lot of the crowd that wanted me to win.”

Peter Alliss (BBC Commentator): “To some it’s a dull, fuddy-duddy old game, but moments like this make you think. Honour, friendship, skill, the lot. Everyone full of joy.”

Martin: “He doesn’t have to prove to anybody he’s a good player. But he proved it to himself how good he was.”