That the final major championship of the decade ended in a rout was a bummer for those of us who wanted mayhem, but it no doubt went exactly as 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry hoped it would go. Lowry, an Irishman who grew up not too far from Royal Portrush, shot an under-fire 1-over 72 to finish at 15 under and win the 148th Open Championship by six over Tommy Fleetwood in Northern Ireland, which hosted this major for the first time in 68 years.
Lowry actually won the event with a 63 on Saturday and then held on for dear life Sunday as the wind and the field tried their best to blow him out to sea. For a couple of moments, it looked as if that might happen. But it never got serious.
Lowry hit a shaky bullet off the first tee that hooked into the rough and labored for bogey from there. If the man who was up four to start the day was going to be caught, it would be because he fell apart early on. It didn’t happen. He rebounded strong by playing the next six holes in 3 under.
Fleetwood, his only serious competition on a blustery Sunday, never could flip him by more than a stroke on a single hole. The first was a good example. Lowry had some distance on his bogey putt, and Fleetwood had a reasonable look at birdie. It seemed as if the middle ground was that Fleetwood would pick up a pair, but he could only get one. It was like that all day.
When the wind and rain started pounding players down the leaderboard as the Lowry-Fleetwood twosome reached the back nine, Lowry stumbled again. He bogeyed three of his first four there, but nobody could mount a charge. The last five groups (not including Lowry) played the course in 41 over. Nobody played it under par. That’s obviously problematic when Lowry was hovering around par throughout.
“I did quite well, to be honest,” Holmes said after the round. “I got off to a very shaky start, but the crowd were just unbelievable. I didn’t feel great out there. It was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt out on the golf course. You’re trying to win an open in your home country, and it’s just incredibly difficult. … I kept on telling myself, ‘Bogeys are not going to hurt me. Let’s just keep the ball in play.'”
It’s not as if he couldn’t have been swept away, either! Playing in the second-to-last pairing, J.B. Holmes fired a jaw-dropping 14-over 85 in the same weather Lowry played in.
The knockout blow came at No. 15. Lowry made birdie to kick it to 15 under and a six-stroke lead with three to play. It’s hard to blow a four-stroke lead in the final round. It’s almost impossible to blow a six-stroke lead with three to play.
He parred No. 16 and No. 17, and they sang him home to the 18th. The fifth man from Ireland or Northern Ireland to win The Open — in its first trip back to the island in seven decades? Even now, even after I watched it happened, it still seems too outlandish to be true.
The Irishman joined Rory McIlroy, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Padraig Harrington (a decent foursome!) as winners of both the Irish Open and Open Championship in their careers. The difference is that Lowry won his Irish Open as an amateur back in 2009. He’s long touted that day as the best of his golf career. Now it has a rival. Or maybe two rivals.
“To be honest, it’s surreal,” Lowry said. “I still can’t believe it’s happening to me. … I can’t believe this is mine. It’s just incredible. I’ve watched Opens since I was a little kid. To be named ‘Champion Golfer of the Year,’ it’s just incredible.”
Saturday was a dream. A bogey-free round of 63 that doubled as the second-best score in major championship history. Sunday’s round wasn’t a dream, but — if he remembers any of it — the party on Sunday night will be.
Shane Lowry has won The Open. He won’t understand the weight of those words for a long time. As life-changing and special as that Irish Open was 10 years ago, this one engulfs it. He raised his arms as soon as he hit the approach into 18 and let the whole thing wash over him. I can’t imagine. I’m not sure he could imagine or if he ever did.
One of the coolest scenes in sport is everyone spilling into the 18th fairway behind the Open champ. This one was incredible. One of their own taking home the Open, and he reveled in every single second. It was the perfect way to end what was yet another remarkable major championship season.