Not that Ireland needs another reason to drink, but Shane Lowry just ensured there’ll be a lot of pubs pouring heavy and staying open late Sunday night.
On a week where the weather at the Open Championship hit the entire spectrum from gentle, gorgeous, welcoming calm to wicked, stinging rain, it’s only right that Lowry, who grew up three hours south of Royal Portrush, would hop a border and run away with the thing.
Lowry, a longtime European and PGA Tour fixture and the world’s 33rd-ranked golfer coming into this week, seized control of both the Northern Ireland course and the hearts of the gallery to storm to a six-shot victory.
He spent every night of the tournament no more than one stroke out of the lead, then started the final pairing alongside England’s Tommy Fleetwood. (For the full leaderboard, go here.) But with all due respect to Fleetwood, Tony Finau, Brooks Koepka and the rest of Lowry’s pursuers, this one wasn’t ever even close. Lowry finished at 15 strokes under par, and around Ireland they’ll be telling tales of the way he tamed Portrush for years to come.
This marked the first time an Open Championship had taken place in Northern Ireland in 68 years, and both the course and the nation put on a hell of a show. The Open sold out for the first time in its history — for the first time ever, there were no walkup tickets available — and the course drew universal acclaim for its design, layout and challenges.
For some big names, though, that challenge was too much to handle. Phil Mickelson rolled into Northern Ireland 15 pounds lighter, and ended up nearly that many strokes over par before missing the cut. Tiger Woods showed up exhausted, looked sore and disinterested from the jump, and never came close to threatening the cut line. This weekend marked the first time in the 83 majors the two have played together that both have missed the cut, and both now face big questions in the major offseason.
A storm of Irish pain surrounded Rory McIlroy, who set the Portrush course record when he was just 16 and rolled into this tournament as the odds-on favorite. His fairytale weekend turned wicked with his very first stroke, a tee shot that landed out of bounds, and he carded an quadruple-bogey 8 on his very first hole. He would put on a heroic charge down the stretch on Friday, but he would end up missing the cut by a single stroke, surely as hard a failure as McIlroy has endured since the Masters collapse in 2011.
Each day brought its own quirky story, too. Thursday’s Ignoble Round of The Day belonged to David Duval, who carded a 91 — 91! — that included a 14-stroke hole. Not often you see a nonuple bogey outside of your local muni, but Duval gave us that gift.
The next day offered a lesson in golf etiquette. Kyle Stanley hit fans with two separate shots, and playing partner Robert MacIntyre accused Stanley of not caring enough to call “fore.” Back and forth they went, with Stanley playing the “I’ve been here longer than you” card.
And Saturday had Xander Schauffele erupting at the R&A over a failed driver test. Schauffele hinted that multiple drivers had failed the test, but only his name was leaked. When his fellow players jokingly called him a cheater, Schauffele seethed and went after the R&A after his Saturday round.
All along the way, Lowry stayed at the top of the leaderboard. He trailed J.B. Holmes by a single stroke after the first day, but held the lead the rest of the way through. Lowry had been in this position before; back in 2016, he owned a four-shot lead at the U.S. Open but went on to shoot a 76 as Dustin Johnson caught and passed him. That failure, like the rainstorms, loomed in the background as night fell on Portrush on Saturday.
Sunday began on another ominous note for the leaders. With nasty weather rolling in, the R&A moved up tee times by about 90 minutes, and by the time the last few games (or pairings, in U.S. terms) teed off, winds were howling through at 30 mph and rain was spattering the course. Some handled the conditions well, some … did not.
Rickie Fowler, starting at -8, got the worst break of the day when his opening tee shot kicked off two spectators and rolled forward into the strange little out-of-bounds zone alongside the first. Holmes, the Thursday night leader, also pushed his opening shot out of bounds. Both would go on to double-bogey the hole. Koepka looked suddenly mortal again, stumbling to a bogey on the first hole.
Behind them, and watching it all unfold, was Lowry, playing the most crucial round of his entire life with the entire golf world watching. A fair percentage of the population of Ireland and Northern Ireland appeared to be surrounding the first hole during Lowry’s opening shots … which drifted left into the thick grass, and then into a deep greenside bunker en route to an opening bogey. It wasn’t a great omen.
From there, for a few holes it was all Lowry and playing partner Fleetwood could do to hang on. Bogeys drew fist-pumps, pars were cause for celebration, and a shot that landed anywhere near the fairway drew Ryder Cup-level cheers from the crowd.
Along the way, players began ejecting from the tournament. Koepka opened his round with four straight bogeys, which for Koepka on a major Sunday is like Kawhi Leonard dribbling four straight balls off his own feet. Holmes took a leisurely tour of the grasslands surrounding every fairway. Jordan Spieth couldn’t find fairways with a GPS. Justin Rose crumbled with four bogeys in the front nine. Bunkers all over Northern Ireland lured Jon Rahm’s shots like sirens.
Sunday at The Open.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 21, 2019
Not for the faint of heart.pic.twitter.com/DkLd1dlVE6
Not everyone flailed, though. Fowler and Lee Westwood both shook off opening black numbers to card birdie runs that put them within sight, if not necessarily striking distance, of Lowry midway through the outbound nine. And right about then, the rain began.
At a moment when he could have fallen to pieces, Lowry steadied himself with birdies on four and five to increase his lead to five strokes, a healthy bulwark against the increasingly ugly weather. Players busted out umbrellas — Fleetwood appeared to have bought his at the merch tent — and tried to stay dry with rain spitting down. Lowry then put his head down and remained locked in. He birdied the seventh to increase his lead to six strokes over Fleetwood.
The tiniest hint of a wobble came at the turn, where Lowry bogeyed the final two holes of the front nine to let Fleetwood back within five strokes. Fleetwood then picked up a birdie at 12 to pull back to within four, the margin it had been at the beginning of the day.
As the round wore on, though, it became clear this was a two-man race, and the second man wasn’t up to the challenge. No one close to the leaders could mount a significant charge, and neither Lowry nor Fleetwood surrendered enough strokes to give anyone hope. Meanwhile, the wind continued to play havoc with shots, leading to moments like this for Henrik Stenson:
Well, he wouldn’t be needing that club for much longer anyway.
Lowry had every opportunity to collapse, and managed to stay strong. A key moment: the par 3 13th, when he found the sand off the tee. Fleetwood had just cut the lead to four, and a bogey here would start cranking up the pressure on Lowry. Instead, he settled into the Portrush sand and delivered this:
And on he went, another par in hand and only five holes left to play in the gray Northern Irish afternoon.
The 14th proved even more crucial; Lowry again bogeyed, opening the door for Fleetwood to jump to within three shots. Fleetwood spit the bit, double-bogeying after another journey into the hay, and once again Lowry led by five shots. One hole later, Lowry buried a birdie to put a six-shot cushion between himself and Fleetwood, and from there, it was just a magnificent walk along the brilliant green countryside, with the Claret Jug waiting at the end.
The scene after Shane’s birdie at 15. The roof is about to come off. pic.twitter.com/utYfj176ui— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) July 21, 2019
The Irish are going to celebrate this one for a long, long time.
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