Shane Lowry Produces Priceless Masterpiece to Win The Open
THREE years ago at Oakmont, Shane Lowry began the final round of the US Open with a four-shot lead. It all unravelled in the most spectacular fashion for the popular Irishman that day. He wouldn’t have been human if his thoughts didn’t stray back to that fateful day as he set off at Royal Portrush, four clear of Tommy Fleetwood. How would he cope? Would he be inspired by the incredible energy from a massive home gallery, willing him to win The Open? Or would history repeat itself?
As his rivals fumbled and faltered, it was Lowry who stood tall. With rain failing and the wind as strong as it has been all week long, the Irishman gave the home fans exactly what they wanted. He shot a final round of 72, recorded a 72-hole total of 269, 15 under par, and won The Open by six shots from Tommy Fleetwood. He was greeted by his wife, Wendy, baby daughter Iris and his tearful parents, as well as by Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. This was a victory that will never be forgotten by those who saw it.
Nobody ever got closer than three shots. This was an 18-hole victory march on a stunning golf course that will surely not have to wait a further 68 years before it once again stages the oldest major in golf. The fans were magnificent all week long and they got precisely what they wanted - a home winner.
After his incredible third round of 63, Lowry had to face the world’s media and the focus of their attention was not the round he had just played; it was all about Oakmont. He knew it would be thus, and he handled it all wonderfully well. He also admitted that he would go to bed dreaming of getting his hands on the Claret Jug. Now that dream has come true.
“To have an Open Championship in Northern Ireland has been something truly special,” said Lowry. “My parents sacrificed so much for me growing up and it means so much to be able to hand the Claret Jug to them tonight. Obviously, it also means a huge amount to have my wife and daughter here to share it with me too. Without all those people I would be here today holding this trophy.
“I feel like I am in an out-of-body experience. What a day. I saw that everybody else was struggling and in the end, it turned into a two-horse race with Tommy, and I am sure that helped me. I couldn’t stop thinking about winning and holding the Claret Jug and I have to thank Bo [my caddie] for keeping me in the moment. I cannot describe what the support was like. I have never experienced anything like it. I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning."
Everything was in his favour as the final round got under way. Start times were brought forward as heavy rain and strong winds were forecast. It meant that none of the chasers were likely to be able to rip up the course. It also meant that Lowry would be playing in conditions with which he is familiar, knowing that a score anywhere close to par would almost certainly be good enough. And that is precisely how it turns out Fleetwood, his nearest challenger, and a man also in search of his first major, would need to better Lowry’s score by five to pass him. It never looked like happening.
And then there were the statistics. In recent times the average world ranking of the winner was 33 and the average age was 32.4. Guess what? Lowry began the day ranked 33rd in the world. And his age? He is 32.4!
Lowry had played like a man possessed for 54 holes - 67, 67 and 63 for a record 197 total, 16 under par. He was cheered to the rafters on every single hole. But as he waited to get his final round under way the nerves must surely have taken hold.
One by one the challengers arrived at the opening tee to get their final rounds under way. Francesco Molinari completed his round before the leaders had even started. Conditions had been testing but there was no rain and there was little more than a breeze. He shot a 66 without a dropped shot and finished the defence of his title on three under par. What Lowry would give for such a score. By now, however, the wind was blowing at 25-30mph.
Jon Rahm, harbouring hopes of launching a challenge, started with a double-bogey six after finding the fairway bunker and failing to escape from the sand. Minutes later Rickie Fowler hit his opening drive out of bounds with a three wood and began with a six. Lee Westwood missed a tiddler to drop back to seven under, nine shots adrift. JB Holmes, starting on 10 under, hit his opening drive out of bounds, took a six and fell back to eight under. Brooks Koepka dropped a shot too. Back to eight under. Hopefully none of this had filtered back to the leader as it would have done nothing to settle his nerves.
And then came the moment when Lowry and Fleetwood finally emerged. Lowry, 16 under. Fleetwood 12 under. It was Fleetwood to play first and he rifled a three iron straight down the middle. Game on.
The roar was deafening when Lowry’s name was announced. Heaven alone knows how he was able to compose himself and keep the nerves under control long enough to strike his opening drive. Huge smiles. Long deep breaths. Tempo. Rhythm. Timing. Just remember everything you have done so well for three rounds. Pull the trigger…and unsurprisingly the ball finished in the left rough. From there he found a bunker short of the green.
Fleetwood, meanwhile, hit a glorious approach. Lowry’s bunker shot came up well short, as did his first putt. Fleetwood missed his birdie putt but was happy to start with a par. It meant Lowry had to hole from six feet for a bogey to go to the second three ahead. It didn’t touch the sides. Fleetwood was now three ahead of Rose and Westwood.
Westwood recovered from his first hole disaster with a birdie at the second and then chipped in for a birdie at the third. He was back on track.
Lowry settled his nerves with pars at the second and third. If there were any demons in his head, he exorcised them completely with birdies at the fourth, fifth and seventh. Suddenly he was cruising. But things are never that straightforward. Shots went at the eighth and ninth as he reached the turn in 36. He was still 16 under par. And the great news was that nobody was making a move.
He parred the 10th, Fleetwood dropped a shot. Lowry was six shots ahead. It was raining and the wind was blowing, and the forecast was for things to get even worse. For Lowry the thought must have been: bring it on.
Up ahead, the only challenger under par was Danny Willett. After 12 holes he was one under for the day but only eight under for the tournament, and eight behind. But he quickly dropped a couple of shots too.
If Lowry could keep his head and keep his game together, victory was surely in the bag. You may remember that JB Holmes figured as a likely winner. His final round was one to forget. The American took 41 blows to cover the front nine and took seven blows to negotiate the 11th hole. He just wanted to get back to the clubhouse. As did most of the field. A course that had yielded birdies for fun for three days was baring its teeth. And Lowry was the only man in the field who seemed to be taking it in its stride.
Westwood’s chances ended with dropped shots at the 11th, 12th and 13th as he fell back to seven under par.
Lowry dropped a shot at the 11th to fall back to 15 under, but he still led by five from Fleetwood, who was two over par for the day. Coming into the final round, Lowry had only had three bogeys all week, but he had already had four as he headed to the 12th tee.
The 12th is a par five and Fleetwood split the fairway with a huge drive, knowing he needed to make an eagle to put some pressure on Lowry. He must have been encouraged when Lowry found thick rough on the right. The Irishman was so close to winning his first major, but still so far away from clinching the deal. Lowry hacked out and found the green in three but he was a long way from the hole. Fleetwood was safely on the dance floor in two. Lowry safely made his par. Fleetwood’s birdie reduced the deficit to four. Back where they started.
By now it was a two-horse race, with players scattering shots like confetti. Holmes was 10 over after 12 holes. Rose was six over. Even Koepka, the major machine, was three over after 12 and going backwards in a hurry.
Fleetwood and Lowry both missed the green at the par-three 13th, the former thought the green, the latter in a green side bunker. By now the wind was howling. Fleetwood pitched up to six feet, Lowry to three feet. Fleetwood holed, Lowry followed him in. Another hole out of the way and still the difference was four. If Fleetwood still harboured hoped of catching the leader, they surely vanished when he found a fairway bunker at the 14th. Lowry missed the fairway but found a great lie in the rough and was able to hit the ball through the green in two. Fleetwood was only able to come up short right, in thick rough. His third shot toppled off the green. Lowry was only able to pitch the ball to 15 feet. Lowry failed to make his par and dropped back to 14 under but Fleetwood dropped two. With four holes to go, Lowry was five ahead.
If there was any doubt about the outcome, Lowry put them to rest with a brilliant approach at the 15th that led to a birdie and increased his lead to five. Three holes to play. The most difficult holes on the course. Both men parred the treacherous par-three 16th. Both also parred the 17th so Lowry was able to walk to the 72nd tee with a five-shot lead, knowing he could enjoy every second of his march to victory.
Tony Finau shot a marvellous round of 71 to finish on seven under par, which was good enough to see him finish the week in third place. “Even par on a day like this was something special,” said Finau. “If I keep knocking on the door I am sure I will start winning soon.”
Finau was the only one of the leading players who was able to match par. Lowry came to the last having dropped just one shot. It was the performance of a champion. Before he had even struck his final drive his name had been engraved on the Claret Jug. For Fleetwood there was the consolation of another runner-up finish in a major. His time will surely come. A final round of 74 was not what he had in mind but it was another stellar week for the Englishman, who won many more new fans.
Lowry duly found the middle of the final fairway and parred the final hole.
Koepka finished with a 74 and ended up in a tie for fourth place with Westwood. It was his worst finish in a major this season. He won the US PGA Championship and was second at The Masters and US Open. And Holmes? He concluded with an 87!
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