PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland. When Royal Portrush was selected by the R&A to host this year’s Open Championship the fuel for getting that to happen came from the likes of such established Irish golf stars as Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.
After two rounds of the 148th Open — just one of the aforementioned players — McDowell — will be around this weekend but barely. Clarke and Harrington both had 145 totals but it was Clarke’s implosion at the 18th scoring a triple-bogey that pushed him over the cut line. McIlroy started the event with a calamitous quadruple bogey at the 1st and played catch-up from that point onward. A valiant effort with a second 65 fell one shot short.
Despite these setbacks there is an Irishman who shares the halfway point lead — Shane Lowry. The 32-year-old hails from Mullingar in County Westmeath and it will be up to Lowry to carry the weight of his fellow countrymen throughout the Emerald Isle.
Lowry is no stranger to top tier competition. As an amateur he captured the Irish Open in ’09 when played at County Louth. His professional career took a bit of time to get started but the 33rd ranked player in the world will face a pressure packed situation beyond anything he’s ever faced on a golf course.
Shane has won several times on the European Tour and he certainly added to his credibility when winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in August 2015.
Just one year later Lowry elevated himself even further when competing at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont. The Irishman went into the final round with a four stroke lead but a late round stumble with a series of bogeys derailed his chances and he limped home with a 76 and a tie for second behind winner Dustin Johnson.
In the 12 major championships he’s competed since Oakmont he’s only finished in the top ten one time. His best Open Championship finish to date is tie for 9th back in 2014.
Lowry demonstrated superior play during Friday’s second round — birdieing the first three holes and five of the first eight holes. He added another birdie at the 10th and at that point became the only player, thus far, to reach double-digit figures under par. Needless to say, his fellow countrymen were hooping and hollering quite justifiably with outright pride. Unfortunately, two late bogies at the 14th and final hole respectively,sapped a bit of the momentum and left him in a tie for the to position with Holmes.
How will Lowry fare with all eye on him for the final 36 holes? That is the unknown. Leading a tournament of any type is never easy. Multiply that reality times a thousand because the cauldron Lowry faces for the duration of The Open is clearly unfathomable.
There are a number of serious contenders near enough so Lowry will need to keep his foot down on the pedal. Clearly, weather conditions, will play a role because there’s been little serious wind for the first half of The Open. There is a forecast for much higher velocities for Sunday’s final round.
There’s no question should Lowry secure the Claret Jug the revelry throughout the Emerald isle may go for days — if not weeks. To have one of their own — claim the game’s oldest major event — on home soil — will no doubt jump to the top of the Irish golf charts.
On the flip side should Lowry not win the nature of the circumstances will matter a great deal. If Shane drops back after the 3rd round the nature of his performance will likely be a measured disappointment. However, if Lowry holds through to the final closing holes the outcome will no doubt have lasting consequences. One can only imagine what a Lowry win will do for him and the Isle as a whole. Conversely, should Lowry lose, either through a serious mishap on his part — heaven forbid — or through the good fortune that falls to one of his competitors, the long term impact to him personally and to his fellow countrymen could be a memory that’s hard to shake. Golf means a great deal to the Irish.
Saturday is often characterized as “moving day” as players seek to jumpstart their standing to be in the right position for Sunday’s final round. It will be a most revealing scene to see how Lowry starts the 3rd round. His start Friday was nothing less than stupendous. With nearly all of his fellow top tier Irish golfers off to the side it is Lowry now carrying the weight squarely on his shoulders. Such pressure can either propel or shackle.
The luck of the Irish means extreme good fortune. The next 36 holes will clearly demonstrate how Shane Lowry navigates the road ahead. Irish eyes will be intently watching — hoping Lowry can hear those magic words come late Sunday afternoon — the champion golfer of the year.