Sensational Lowry seals his place in Irish sporting folklore

Egis Paulikas

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Egis Paulikas

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egis@alphanewspapers.com

AMID scenes of almost heart rending emotion, incredible tension and drama and all mixed in with a Zen like calm, Shane Lowry set the pulse racing, temperatures soaring, hearts fluttering as he captured one of golf's most cherished prizes, the British Open at Royal Portrush on Sunday last.

Just ten years after he won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, Lowry sealed his place in Irish sporting folklore by becoming only the fifth player from the island to win one of golf's major prizes.

The British Open, played in Ireland for the first time since 1951, is golf's oldest, most iconic major, an event absolutely steeped in the longest traditions of the game and it was an absolutely sensational win by Lowry.

Four shots clear of the field going into Sunday's final round, the Clara man displayed almost unbelievable nerves of steel, a feeling of calm that was evident in his composure, the way he dealt with everything during that final round and the smile he wore, the interaction with his caddy, Bo Martin during the closing holes of Sunday's final round when it was clear that he could not be caught by the only man with a remote chance, England's Tommy Fleetwood.

As his wife Wendy, daughter Iris, parents, Brendan and Bridget, sister Sinead and brother Alan watched on from greenside, Lowry won by a whopping six shots and had the profound luxury of being able to savour every second of his triumphant procession up the 18th fairway.

With jubilant Irish fans, including many from Offaly, chanting his name and “ole, ole”, Lowry could afford to embrace his caddy and catch the eye of the people that mattered in the ground before two putting for a routine par from the edge of the green and the biggest win of his career.

It was an extraordinary triumph for the 32 year old. It came just three years after he lost a four shot overnight lead in the final round of the US Open, losing out to the surging Dustin Johnson in the most traumatic of circumstances.

It came less than a year after a disappointing 2018 during which he endured the trauma of losing his US PGA card but the trajectory of his career once again spiralled in an upward direction in January when he won the Abu Dhabi Championship during the European Tour's early season eastern swing.

The importance of that to what happened this weekend can not be underestimated. While he had previously won one of golf's biggest events, the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational in 2015 – an event rated just behind the four majors (The British and US Opens and the US Masters and PGA) in importance, that Abu Dhabi win was arguably even bigger in terms of its importance to his career development. It was also a topsy turvy round in which he led by three at the start, trailed by four after 11 (to South Africa's Richard Stern) and won by one.

It propelled him back into the World's top fifty, sealing his place in the majors and big World Golf Championship events and effectively re-instating his playing rights on the US Tour and meaning that he could play what he wanted there rather than concentrating on the European Tour.

Throughout the season, it was clear that Lowry was in a very good place as he produced the most consistent golf of his career. He missed just six cuts between the US and European Tours and was playing with a great sense of confidence and composure.

In the other majors this season, he had finished 8th at the US PGA, tied 28th at the US Open and he missed the cut at the Masters.

His ability to challenge and get into the mix in golf's biggest events over the years suggested that he was capable of winning a major and it all came together quite spectacularly on the famed Antrim links course.

Throughout the tournament, he looked a likely winner and he produced some of the best golf of his career. He was brilliant throughout, driving very well, excellent with irons in his hand and when he did find trouble, which was never far away in Portrush with very heavy-tough rough and out of bounds possible on some holes, his short game once again proved to be his saviour. With wedges in his hand, Lowry was once again magnificent and his putting was exceptional.

His demeanour throughout was a pleasure to observe and even though the pressure must have been intense going into Sunday's final round, he kept it all together and clearly learnt his lessons from the past.

The weather conditions on Sunday suited him down to the ground. No one likes getting wet and being battered by wind but the regular rainfall and powerful sea breezes played into his hand as it meant that he didn't have to worry about anyone shooting out the lights and racing up into contention from the left field.

Instead, he knew that anything close to a par round would do the business and this is the way it transpired. As Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka and everyone else fell off the pace, it all boiled down to a straight shoot-out between Lowry and his playing partner, Tommy Fleetwood.

Despite a bogey five on the first that asked the most searching questions of his temperament, it soon became clear that Lowry was playing the more steady, more consistent, more composed golf. That first hole was huge as he had to sink an eight foot putt to avoid a double bogey. Fleetwood also had to sink a number of excellent putts to save par and hang onto the champions' shadow but the closest he could get was three shots and into the back nine, Lowry held a six shot lead, with one hand and four fingers firmly clenched around the Claret Jug.

It was a record breaking four days for Lowry – his six shot victory meant that he became the fourth player in the last 50 years to clinch his first major by more than five shots – after Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods: incidentally McIlroy and Woods were two high profile early casualties here as they both missed the cut.

From the start of the tournament, Lowry was on fire. On Thursday, he shot a four under par 67 and was just one stroke behind the then leader, J.B. Holmes. With a shocking 8 on the first ruining Rory McIlroy's tournament, Lowry played superbly steady golf as he birdied the 3rd, 5th, 9th and 10th. He had a bogey on the 11th but bounced back with a birdie on 12 and parred his way in from here, though he was very close to improving his score.

He again showed his quality on Friday as the favourable early morning conditions saw several players shoot low scores and the champion was down the leader board before his afternoon start. However, he hit the ground running and a second -4 67 saw him tie for the lead with JB Holmes on -8 at the end of the day's play.

He started off spectacularly with three birdies in his opening three holes and added to them on 5 and 8 as he turned in just 31 shots. A birdie on the 10th put him on -10 for the tournament and while he was disappointed to bogey the 14th and 18th, a share of the lead represented an excellent day's work.

Saturday was absolutely crucial for Lowry – while he won it on Sunday, he could not afford the poor round that has cost him in the past and he played his best golf of the tournament on day 3.

He hit a quite spectacular -8 63, breaking the Portrush course record since its 2016 redevelopment – he was just one stroke off the lowest major round of all time and set a new 54 hole scoring record at the Open.

His golf was almost flawless and the atmosphere incredible as the realisation dawned that Lowry was building up unstoppable momentum. After birdies on the 3rd, 5th and 9th, he really cut loose on the back nine. He had further birdies on 10, 12, 15, 16 and 17 for a fantastic 63 and this gave him a four shot lead on -16 from Fleetwood.

The dreadful conditions changed the whole ball game on Sunday and meant that low scores was a near impossibility – the chances of someone repeating Lowry's 63 with rain spilling and wind driving from all directions were somewhere between slim and none.

It meant that if Lowry managed to avoid a disastrous round, he would get the job done and he showed an incredible level of composure and maturity. His body language was so good throughout the round and the way he interacted with his caddy showed a man on top of his game and in control of his emotions.

He could have let doubts set in after that bogey on the first but quickly steadied the ship with pars on 2 and 3. He then went on a run that yielded birdies on 4, 5 and 7 and the outcome had an air of inevitability from here on as Fleetwood dug so deep but never threatened to mount the charge that he required.

That run from 4 to 7 got him to an almost unbelievable -18 and with a seven shot lead, it would have taken a shocking collapse to deny him. It still wasn't straight forward but it was never going to be in those conditions. He had bogeys on 8, 9 and 11 and now the deficit was back to four shots. Still a very big lead with seven holes to play but tournaments have been lost from here before.

However, there was a major turning point on the 14th as Lowry had a bogey but Fleetwood had a double bogey and with a five shot lead, the home fans were singing in the rain.

He had a birdie on the 15th and it was done and dusted at this stage as Lowry parred his way in and had the luxury of savouring every second of the occasion – the feeling of achievement as he strode imperiously down fairways, the excitement of the crowd as they chanted his name and celebrated wildly and the whole 18th hole experience when he knew that it was not possible to lose as he finished on -15, a whopping six shots clear of the runner up.

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