Shane Lowry thrilled his legion of supporters with the round of his life that swept him into a four-shot lead after the third round of The 148th Open.
The 148th Open, Royal Portrush
Huge cheers echoed around Royal Portrush for each of Lowry’s eight birdies, including three in a row down the stretch as he opened up a commanding advantage over Tommy Fleetwood, with overnight co-leader JB Holmes now six off the pace in third despite breaking 70 for the third straight day.
World No 1 Brooks Koepka and No 4 Justin Rose fired excellent rounds of 67 and 68 respectively, but Lowry’s brilliance left them seven shots back heading into a final day which faces the prospect of afternoon weather disruption, forcing the R&A to bring forward the tee times by an hour.
Strengthening winds and likely heavy rain expected to have an impact on the closing stages of the tournament, and Ashton Turner will get the final round under way at 7:32am with Lowry and Fleetwood going out at 1:47pm in the hope of presenting the Claret Jug to the Champion Golfer of the Year by 6pm.
Lowry and Fleetwood separated themselves from what was a heavily congested leaderboard halfway through the day, while major nearly-man Lee Westwood looks to be too far back to challenge after he slipped from 10 under to eight under with an erratic back nine.
Lowry’s struggles down the stretch on Friday afternoon were long forgotten when he got his third round off to a confident start, making birdies at the third and fifth before ramping up the noise levels further with another gain at the ninth to turn in 33.
The Irishman holed a beauty at the 10th to reclaim the outright lead, and further putts dropped at 12 and 15 before a stunning long-iron to eight feet at the daunting 16th resulted in his seventh birdie of a sensational day, which got even better when he followed a perfect drive with another crisp iron to three feet and the putt was never in doubt.
Lowry received a standing ovation from the sell-out crowd as he marched towards the 18th green after hitting his second to 15 feet and, although the putt grazed the left edge of the hole and stayed out, his cast-iron par capped a magnificent 63 and set a new course record since the Dunluce Links underwent major surgery a few years ago.
Fleetwood spent much of the day jostling for the lead with Lowry, Westwood and JB Holmes after he birdied three of the first seven holes to race to 10 under, and another at the 10th briefly gave him the share of the lead again before Lowry, who also took a four-shot lead into the final round of the 2016 US Open, began to forge clear.
The Englishman again tied Lowry at the top with a birdie at the long 12th, but the putts dried up for him over the final third of the round and he settled for six straight pars to close out a 66 which, on any normal day, would have had him much closer to the lead – if not in sole possession of it.
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Holmes had earlier gained the initiative over playing-partner Lowry when he birdied two of the first three holes, but he did not manage another until the 12th before back-to-back bogeys suddenly left the American four behind – a deficit which increased to seven when Lowry holed for birdie at the penultimate hole.
The 37-year-old, who few remember was third at Royal Troon in 2016, far behind Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, did regroup and gave himself a little momentum to take into the final round with a birdie three at the last which earned him outright third ahead of Koepka and Rose.
Koepka’s challenge was hampered by a cold putter as he mixed four birdies with a pair of back-nine bogeys over the first 15 holes, although the four-time major winner revived his chances of a first Open win with a birdie-birdie finish to post a 67 and close on nine under.
Rose was level par over a frustrating first 11 holes, but he suddenly became a factor when he drained a great putt for eagle at the 12th which he followed with birdies at 13 and 15, but a wayward tee shot to the short 16th cost him his second blemish of the day and he parred in to stay level with Koepka.
Westwood, still chasing his major dream at the age of 46, birdied three in a row from the second to find himself leading The Open once again, but a carved drive into a bush at the 10th seemed to dent his confidence and, despite salvaging a good bogey, he erred again at 15 and stumbled home in 37 to return a disappointing 70.
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