Any country has its sports heroes, and Ireland and Northern Ireland have their share. MMA star Conor McGregor. Olympic 5,000-meter gold medalist Ron Delany. World champion boxer Steve Collins (in two different weights in the 1990s). It doesn’t matter that the last two aren’t exactly household names in the U.S.; they are in their native land.
But what awaits Lowry may be unmatched in Irish sports history. This morning, under what are expected to be strong winds and occasional downpours, Lowry brings a four-shot lead into the first professional golf major to be held in the Emerald Isle since 1951. Bring this home, before perhaps 70,000 roaring supporters, and you’re not a hero. You’re a legend.
In the final moments of his 63 on Saturday, Lowry told his caddie that “we might never have a day like this on the golf course again, so let’s enjoy this.”
“Honestly, that’s the most incredible day I’ve ever had on the golf course,” Lowry told the press after the round. “I just can’t believe what it was like.”
Tommy Fleetwood would seem to be the only challenger with a reasonable chance to chase down Lowry, although Brooks Koepka is hoping for a Irish monsoon that might spark him from seven shots back.
But it’s all on Lowry. Hero. Legend. Or something far less enjoyable.* The R&A moved up the starting times Sunday in an effort to avoid the worst of the heavy rain and 35 mph gusts in the forecast.
* Lowry had a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open. He closed with a 76 as Dustin Johnson rallied for his only major. Lowry says he learned from that day, how to hang in until the very end.
* Koepka, the PGA champion and winner in three of the last six majors, couldn’t get enough putts to fall and still managed a 67. “I’ve hit it as good as I could possibly imagine. I putted the worst in the entire field,” he said. “It’s been really bad. Very frustrating. Disappointed. But thankfully, it’s going to blow tomorrow to have any sort of chance.”
* American golfer Xander Schauffele accused the R&A of trying to ruin his image by not keeping private that his Callaway driver failed to conform to the allowable limits of the club’s “trampoline effect.” He said one player jokingly referred to him as a cheater, and he claimed he was not the only player whose driver didn’t pass in random testing this week.
“The R&A, they (ticked) me off because they attempted to ruin my image by not keeping this matter private,” Schauffele said. “This is me coming out and treating them the exact way they treated me.”
* Fleetwood is ready for the challenge.
“I know what it’s going to be like,” said Fleetwood, who will start the final round in the last group for the first time in a major. “I’ve had my fair share of support for the first three days. Hopefully there will still be some people out there rooting for me.”
Fleetwood — easily identifiable because of his flowing locks and rock-star looks — is one of the nice guys in golf, hugely popular in Europe.