That support, while not derogatory to any of the other contenders, was unequivocally and loudly behind Lowry as the Irishman took control of the 148th Open on Saturday. As he put the final touches on a new course record of 63 for the revised Dunluce Links, the grandstands at the 18th hole erupted in chants and cheering the like of which usually only grace a winning home Ryder Cup team.
Walking off the 17th tee, Lowry said to Martin, his caddie: “We might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let’s enjoy the next half-hour.” And they did. “I can’t believe what it was like,” Lowry said. “I thought I dealt with it very well today.”
In contrast to Friday’s round that frizzled on the back nine, he started steadily, picked up a couple of shots at the third and fifth, and then birdied six of the last 10 holes. For much of the day, the leaderboard was relatively tightly packed. Lowry only got in front for good at the 12th. Going to the 15th he was only one in front. Suddenly he kicked clear of the field.
A 12-foot putt that curled from left-to-right give him a birdie at the 15th. Then came the shot of the day at the 16th, a magnificent four iron right on line with the hole, finishing 10 feet away. “I’m not to going to lie, I pushed it about five, 10 yards, but it was a perfect four iron,” Lowry said. “To roll the putt in was really nice. Every time I had a putt today, I just wanted to hole it because I wanted to hear that roar.”
A third birdie in a row came at the 17th following a pitch from 60 yards to four feet. His birdie putt at the last, to tie Branden Grace’s record for a major of 62, came up just short. No matter, he was the first player from the Republic of Ireland to lead the Open after 54 holes. His total of 197 was a new record, beating Tom Lehman’s 198 at Lytham in 1996, and, at 16 under par, he led by four strokes.
Fleetwood, who had been only one behind with two to play, was his nearest challenger after a 66, his second bogey-free round of the week. “It would be easy to get frustrated but you have to look at it realistically,” Fleetwood said. “I had one of the best rounds of the day and I was bogey-free. Shane just played great and I’m four back. That’s it. I’m happy how I played.”
“But it was a very special day,” added the Englishman. “A great day to be playing golf. People watching today, if they’re not into golf after that … I think it was amazing for the sport. The atmosphere was just great. I loved it. For or against you, you can’t help but appreciate and love what today was and what tomorrow is going to be.”
Holmes, the co-leader overnight playing alongside Lowry, had led briefly after birdies at the second and third holes, but it took a birdie at the last for him to post a 69 and hang on to outright third place, six strokes behind, one ahead of Koepka and Rose. Nevertheless, Holmes reflected: “That was really cool to experience. I don’t know how many times in history you get the opportunity to witness that — to have someone from the home country put up a round like that in the Open. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Third-round leaders: Shane Lowry 63–197, Tommy Fleetwood 66–201, J.B. Holmes 69–203, Brooks Koepka 67–204, Justin Rose 68–204.