Portrush, 20 July 2019: As the Sun dipped on Northern Ireland with the early exits of Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, hope came from an unexpected corner. Graeme McDowell remained in the 148th Open Championship, but he was only hanging around by the coat tails, with hardly any hope for a bright Sunday finish. Hope came instead from a man from Clara in Ireland, who the Northern Irish are happy to adopt, at least for the weekend.
Shane Lowry, winner of the Irish Open here in 2009, while still an amateur, found a fresh dose of inspiration to produce a Saturday classic that might play on for a long time to come. The 32-year-old fired eight birdies in making a 63 that broke the course record and the 54-hole scoring record at the Open by one stroke. Lowry is ahead by four over Tommy Fleetwood, 16-under 197, also one better than the 198 posted by Tom Lehman at the Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996.
He played solid golf on Saturday to draw away from the field after sharing the lead with three others on a Saturday filled with myriad possibilities. The only hitch – the only other time he held a 54-hole lead on the PGA TOUR was at Oakmont in the US Open when he squandered a four-stroke advantage. Lowry shot 76 on that occasion to finish T2. If he can manage any sleep at all on Saturday, he will hope that the final round at Royal Portrush isn’t a similar disaster.
Tommy Fleetwood has been playing some crisp golf this week. He has made just two bogeys so far, the lowest in the field. At 12-under he is four back, but given the wind and rain forecast for Sunday, it may not be too much distance to cover if the chips fall his way.
Fleetwood and Lowry will tee off at 0147pm on Sunday (0617pm in India), as the R&A decided to move the tee times up to account for some hostile weather later in the day. In the group immediately before them will be J. B. Holmes (-10) and Brooks Koepka (-9), just ten minutes before the final group. Koepka is seeking to become the first golfer in the modern era to finish inside the top three in all four majors during the same season.
Justin Rose is also at 9-under and he will play alongside Rickie Fowler, still looking for a first major at 8-under through 54 holes. Lee Westwood is 8-under while Danny Willett is one shot further back. Jon Rahm, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth round off the top ten going into Sunday at 7-under 206.