Why European golfers seem to have a competitive advantage at The Open is a matter of conjecture.
Perhaps it’s the jet lag other players have after crossing the pond. Maybe its because they have grown accustomed to playing in the miserable conditions which often batter courses in England, Scotland and Ireland.
Fact is, Shane Lowry, one of the finest golfers ever from Ireland, didn’t appear to be daunted over the weekend as he worked his way around the wind, rain and chill of Royal Portrush.
All around him, the great American players, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, were falling flat and missing the cut. But Lowry kept chugging along.
Or maybe it was just a matter of fate this time around. How appropriate was it that Lowry would win the silver claret jug in the first Open played in Northern Ireland since 1951?
“I can’t believe this is me standing here,” said Lowry, who won a Major for the first time in his career. “I can’t believe this is mine.”
It’s his second win on the PGA Tour and it placed him back into the top 20 in the World Ranking.
As the home crowd cheered him along on Sunday, Lowry forged ahead through the slop that began battering the course as he approached the turn. The weather did not deter him.
“I didn’t feel great out there. It was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt on a golf course,” said Lowry, who had 23 birdies. “You’re out there trying to win an Open in your home country, and it’s just incredibly difficult.”
He shot an opening-round 67 to put him one stroke off the lead, then was four-under-67 in the second and 2-over-63 in the third.
Even though he didn’t dominate Portrush on Sunday – no one among the final dozen groups shot under par in the final round – he played consistently enough to post a 1-over-72 and win the tournament six shots with a 15-under 269. It was the first time since 1996 that an Open champion was over par in the final round.
Testimony to how hard the course played was provided when Lowry bogeyed four of seven holes as he approached the 15th. But he wasn’t alone and no one moved closer than three strokes of him all day.
“Obviously, I didn’t sleep very well (on Saturday night),” Lowry said. “I slept for about four or five hours last night, and I normally throw a good eight, 10 hours at it. So wake up in the middle of the night thinking about all sorts. And I was awake at half past 6 this morning.”
England’s Tommy Fleetwood was second with a final round 74. Tony Fina was third and Brooks Koepka as tied for fourth.
“I never really got close enough, and Shane played great,” Fleetwood said. “The conditions were horrendous. It was Shane’s time, Shane’s tournament.
“I think that makes Shane’s round of one over even more impressive, controlling the day like he did. But it was just brutal. That is part of the Open generally. That’s what it’s supposed to be like. It was rough at times. I think the course played really, really difficult.”
Lowry, who carried a four-shot lead into Sunday, has been a star in Ireland since he was very young. He won the Irish Open 10 year ago. And now he joins Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clark, Graeme McDowell and Fred Daly as the as the only Irishmen to win a Major.
It seemed a long way from last year’s Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland when he missed the cut for the fourth straight time. That’s when he fired his caddy Dermot Byrne.
“I cried,” Lowry told the New York Times. “Golf wasn’t my friend at the time. It was something that became very stressful, and it was weighing on me, and I just didn’t like doing it. And look, what a difference a year makes, I suppose.”
A major example of how feisty the course was on Sunday was J.B. Holmes. He and Lowry were tied for the lead heading into the third round, but his finished the tournament in disastrous fashion making only one birdie and shooting a 16-over-87. According to ESPN, it was the highest final-round score at the Open since 1966 and it send Holmes plummeting to a tie for 67th place.