The 148th Open Royal Portrush
DONE-luce?
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Up four, Ireland's Lowry has the crowd behind him at Portrush

Shane Lowry has moved on from his failure at Oakmont and now stands ready to contend for the Claret Jug.

By Will Gray

The local resident missed the cut. So, too, did the favorite son. But the Emerald Isle will still have a vigorous rooting interest in the final round of its first Open in 68 years.

Shane Lowry will have enormous support from the Portrush crowds Sunday as he tries to etch his name into the history books and wrap his hands around the Claret Jug. He had their support Saturday on the Dunluce Links, starting the day with a share of the lead and turning in a brilliant performance that pushed him four shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood and six shots clear of everyone else.

Twenty minutes after he signed his scorecard, Lowry was still being serenaded by the boisterous few who had stuck around in the fading light to craft songs for the man from Mullingar. It served only to whet the appetite for what might be sung should Lowry hang on at The 148th Open.

“Honestly, that’s the most incredible day I’ve ever had on the golf course,” Lowry said. “I honestly can’t explain what it was like.”

Lowry’s 8-under 63, which came within an inch on the 18th green of tying Branden Grace for the lowest score ever in a major, still stands as the best of the week by two shots. It was a rare convergence of form, confidence, energy and sheer will, one that lifted him to the precipice of a maiden major title.

Lowry won earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, and his lone PGA Tour win came four years ago in Akron, Ohio. But the 32-year-old Irishman knows what it feels like to win in front of the home crowds, having taken the Irish Open title a decade ago as an amateur. It’s the type of victory that can serve as an unending source of inspiration, a moment where the pressures of the moment were no match for the man.

What lies ahead at Royal Portrush is a similar opportunity but one of an entirely different magnitude.

Lowry signs for 63 after bid for Open record narrowly misses

“This means an awful lot,” Lowry said. “If I’m sitting here (in the media center) this time tomorrow evening, it will be like one of the biggest things that’s ever happened to me. There’s no denying that.”

The precision with which Lowry maneuvered during the third round was remarkable. Danger lurks around every corner amid this collection of dunes, cliffs and bunkers, and he navigated every possible obstacle with aplomb. An errant tee shot on the 14th hole that hit a spectator in mid-air was a rare miscue, but one from which he recovered to save par on one of the most difficult holes on the course.

Upon learning that it was Lowry’s ball that struck him just above the shirt collar, Irishman Owen Sweeney’s only regret was that he hadn’t managed to ricochet the ball back into the fairway. Such is the zeal and fervor with which the crowds lifted Lowry down the stretch as he left the other contenders in his wake.

“Every time I had a putt today, I just wanted to hole it because I wanted to hear that roar,” Lowry said. “It was just incredible. It was an incredible day.”

Three front-nine birdies created momentum, and he stole another when his approach on No. 10 flirted with a hillside before trundling back toward the hole. But it was three straight birdies on Nos. 15-17 that separated him from the pack, closed out a course-record 63 and set up a potential coronation that could flood the fairways with Guinness.

“Tomorrow is not going to be any quieter,” Fleetwood said. “Playing with Shane, last day, 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.”

Lowry's brilliant approach at 17 sets up another birdie

Recall, though, that Lowry has been here before. It was just three years ago that he took the same four-shot cushion into the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, only to bogey four of his first 10 holes. He shot a 76 that left him three shots behind Dustin Johnson.

It was a difficult lesson to process, but one that Lowry believes makes him all the more prepared to get across the finish line this time around.

“I think I learned a few things that day about playing in the final round of a major with the lead, that you need to just hang in until the very last minute,” Lowry said. “You never know what can happen. And I’m going to do the same tomorrow.”

Lowry likely won’t be able to replicate the magic of Saturday’s 63, but he won’t need it to claim The 148th Open, either. Such are the advantages bestowed to a man who turned in the performance of the tournament from the day’s final pairing.

But listening to the songs, cheers and chants that followed Lowry’s every move after holing out on the 18th green, it’s easy to know where the Portrush crowd’s allegiance will lie. Now it’s up to Lowry to give them a reason to sing.