For the first time all week, weather is expected to play a significant role in The 148th Open. For Shane Lowry's closest chasers, emotions are mixed on what that means for Sunday's final round.
By Bailey Mosier
After posting 8-under 63 on Saturday at Royal Portrush, the stage is set for the coronation of an Irishman at The 148th Open at Royal Portrush.
Or is it?
Shane Lowry sizzled in a bogey-free round that gave him a four-shot cushion heading into Sunday's final round.
Save for some spotty showers throughout Friday, the weather on Sunday is expected to be a significant factor for the first time all week. So much so, that tee times were moved up an hour.
Forecasts call for "persistent and occasionally heavy rain" throughout the afternoon and evening. Winds are expected to gust up to 30mph, with a 40 percent risk of gusts up to 35mph after 4 p.m. local (11 a.m. ET).
"I know there's some bad weather forecast [tomorrow]," Lowry said. "So I said to myself, 'If I can make one or two coming in, that'll really help me tomorrow.' And that's what I did."
Lowry is no stranger to holding a 54-hole lead in a major. He led the at the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2016 by the same margin, ultimately shooting 76 on Sunday to finish in a tie for second, three back of Dustin Johnson.
Chasers will be looking for a familiar falter out of Lowry on Sunday, especially with volatile weather.
The man with the best chance of catching him is Tommy Fleetwood, who is alone in second at 12 under after a stellar 5-under 66 on Saturday. He's not so sure the forecast will matter much.
"I, personally, don't mind the conditions," Fleetwood said. "I feel like I've had some of my best rounds in terrible, terrible conditions, where I've enjoyed grinding it out. ... Shane is definitely - he's not played in sunshine and no wind all his life. So it's not going to be a problem for him, either."
At 9 under, Brooks Koepka sits seven shots back, and is happy the weather is going to turn sour.
"It's going to be an advantage for me," Koepka said. "With the fact that I feel like I'm striking the ball well and I'm so far back. If you're going to have difficult conditions, it's going to be windy, maybe a little rain. That's kind of what I need. I need a chance, and hopefully it will be to my benefit."
Rickie Fowler sits another shot back at 8 under and will begin his quest for major No. 1 on Sunday eight back of Lowry. While that may seem too large of a deficit to overcome, Fowler has a good track record in difficult weather. Fowler fought through a nasty spell on Saturday at Royal St. George's in 2011 to shoot 68. He would go on to finish T-3.
"I don’t know if anyone ever really truly enjoys playing in that weather, but I’ve had success in some pretty bad weather.," Fowler said. "We’ll see what we get. Today it was supposed to be blowing a little bit more and it laid down on the back nine. You never know. I think we plan for the worst and see what happens."
However it unfolds, hang on to your pints and your brollies. Sunday at The 148th Open will be one to remember.