The roars at Royal Portrush echoed throughout the region as Shane Lowry dialed in with some ideal golf conditions and produced one of the magical and memorable rounds in Open history with a 63 that pushed his championship lead to four strokes heading into Sunday. Lowry’s 16-under 197 is the lowest 54-hole score in Open history, and it’s set him well ahead of Tommy Fleetwood at 12 under and J.B. Holmes at 10 under.
Lowry was visibly overwhelmed walking up the fairway at 18 as the crowd serenaded him with chants and cheers. The 32-year-old Irishman has become the primary fan favorite with Rory McIlroy already home following a missed cut, and the energy around the course powered his historic round. It’s the 13th score of 63 or lower at The Open, the best round of the week and one stroke shy of Branden Grace’s major-championship record of 62.
And that one stroke came down to just a few inches on Lowry’s birdie putt at 18.
That fact that things were so pleasant for Lowry served as an interesting twist to The Open, where we expect the leaders to face wind, rain and inclement weather later in the day. That weather is in the forecast for Sunday, though, and it’s so potentially severe that the R&A elected to move up tee times.
So Lowry will be challenged not only to convert on a 54-hole lead at Royal Portrush, where he was a winner as an amateur, but to do so facing foreboding conditions that will certainly put some big numbers in play. Here’s how the leaderboard looks heading into Sunday’s final round:
1. Shane Lowry (-16): Even the worst case scenario imaginable for Lowry on Sunday, given his play through 54 holes, is what, a 75? The real magic of Saturday’s round for Lowry is the cushion he’s created against the field, because even in the event of Lowry falling about four strokes back is he still would have a chance to win as the last player on the course.
2. Tommy Fleetwood (-12): I think it might be Tommy’s time. Fleetwood put together his second bogey-free round of the championship with a steady 68, showcasing the elite ball-striking that has inspired the hype for his ascendance as one of golf’s next greats. I think Fleetwood will win multiple majors because of that ball-striking, and Sunday will be a fantastic chance for him to get his first.
3. J.B. Holmes (-10): While Lowry was setting the course on fire, Holmes had some difficulty through the middle of his round. Back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14 kept him from making the final group — or “game” as the locals say — but given the mayhem we might see around Lowry, it might be easier on Holmes to be ahead of the crowd.
T4. Brooks Kopeka (-9): The greatest major championship golfer of this era and perhaps one of the best of all time brings a ton of credibility to this already stellar leaderboard. Things nearly went sideways during Koepka’s third round, but he bounced back with birdies on 17 and 18 to round out his 67. After the round, Koepka criticized his putting effort and stated his hope that his elite form from tee-to-green will give him an advantage in difficult scoring conditions on Sunday.
T4. Justin Rose (-9): It took some grinding and scrambling to hold together Rose’s third straight round under 70 here at The Open. There was an eagle at 12, a disappointing bogey at 16 and pretty much everything in between. The accuracy numbers aren’t great — which might not bode well for Sunday — but he’s in striking distance and will have a shot when his day starts on Sunday.
T6. Rickie Fowler (-8): Saturday’s 66 was only short of Danny Willett’s 65 as the best round of the day, and now Fowler is back in striking distance at a major championship after 54 holes. Fowler’s going to have a post a number on Sunday to have a real shot at winning, but after watching him card four birdies and no bogeys on the back nine, that’s definitely in the realm of possibility.
T6. Lee Westwood (-8): We might have seen Westwood’s championship effort lose some steam on Saturday. Three straight birdies on 2, 3 and 4 got the feels going for one of Europe’s beloved stars, but he played the final nine holes at 2-over par and now needs a lot of help to contend on Sunday.
T8. Danny Willett, Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth (-7): I think after this group is where we draw the line for players that can make a run at winning the Claret Jug. After Willett’s 65, the best scores from this group on Saturday came from Rahm and Finau, each posting a 68. The winning score might be, at worst, five strokes under par, so it will require another round like Willett’s for one the 7-under players to chase down the leaders.
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