Lowry becomes second Irishman to win The Open

Shane Lowry with one of the most prized trophies in golf, the claret jug. Photo credit R&A.

Shane Lowry with one of the most prized trophies in golf, the claret jug. Photo credit R&A.

Shane Lowry achieved a lifelong dream after holding his nerve in a Sunday battle with Tommy Fleetwood at The 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland.

With The Open returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, it was fitting that a man from the island of Ireland should lift The Open’s coveted trophy of the Claret Jug.

Lowry, from County Offaly in the Midlands Region of Ireland, did so by coping with wet and windy conditions on a memorable Sunday.

The 32-year-old had built enough of a lead that he could enjoy the greatest walk in golf up the 18th fairway knowing the Claret Jug was waiting for him – becoming just the second Irishman to lift it, after Padraig Harrington in 2008 at Royal Birkdale and 2007 at Carnoustie.

A scintillating 63 on the Saturday had given Lowry a four-shot lead over Fleetwood and more over the rest of the field but the Sunday of an Open puts pressure on every golfer and no advantage is safe until the final putt is sunk.

A bogey on the first hole, coupled with a par from his English playing partner Fleetwood that could have been a birdie, reduced the gap to three strokes but from there, the Irishman gathered himself and produced consistently gritty golf to claim his first major title.

Birdies on the fourth, fifth and seventh holes got Lowry as low as 18 under for the tournament, although three bogeys on the next six holes enabled Fleetwood to get back to within four strokes.

But things turned at the 14th as Lowry again bogeyed, only for Fleetwood to make a double bogey and a brilliant birdie by Lowry at the 15th allowed the crowd favourite to enjoy the final three holes with a hefty advantage.

He eventually signed for a score of 72, which saw him end the championship at 15 under par and Fleetwood could only offer a shake of the hand as he finished six strokes back.

Tony Finau produced a superb par 71 to finish third at seven under but the expected charges from the likes of Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler never truly materialised.

Westwood and Koepka ended in a tie for fourth at six under, while Rickie Fowler was a shot further back in joint sixth alongside Danny Willett who shot a 73 and Robert MacIntyre (68) and Tyrrell Hatton (69), who took advantage of the benign morning conditions.

Last year’s winner Francesco Molinari finished strongly with a Sunday-best round of 66 that saw him leap up to three under for the championship and a tie for 11th.

But it was Lowry’s day, as he soaked in the adulation from a partisan crowd walking down the 18th for the greatest moment of his golfing career.

The Irishman was both a deserving and popular winner – just ask the fans in attendance, who brought a party atmosphere to the Northern Irish venue.

Football chants and pop songs reverberated around the Dunluce Links following a scintillating Saturday that put the 32-year-old in control, before celebrations ratcheted up a notch after he sealed victory on Sunday.

Lowry’s six-stroke victory meant he became just the fourth player in the last 50 years – after Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods – to clinch his first major by more than five shots.

Lowry said he could hardly believe how calm he was with the win.

“I’m feeling unbelievably calm, to be honest,’’ Lowry said at his press conference.

“I don’t know why. It’s not going to sink in for a couple of days, is it?

“It’s just incredible to be sitting here with a trophy in front of me. Look at the names on it. Yeah, I just can’t believe — like I said, I couldn’t believe that it was me. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

“I thought about it all day but I didn’t really let myself think about it until I hit my tee shot on 17. As soon as I hit that tee shot I knew that I couldn’t really lose a ball from there, and that’s how I felt.”

Lowry said the reception from the fans was amazing.

“Oh, my god. It was amazing. It’s hard to believe. It’s just hard to believe.

“I think a lot of people from where I’m from, I spotted a few people in the crowd, and I think a lot of people made the last-minute journey up here this morning because I was leading. And it was just — it was great out there today.

“It’s funny, I sometimes struggle to play in front of the home crowd and have done in the past, but not over the last few days. I played lovely. It’s obviously very nice.”

Lowry said avoiding a three-shot swing on the first green on the final day resulted in a calming influence.

“Tommy has a great chance of birdie and I’m putting for bogey from eight feet. There’s a potential three-shot swing. He misses, I make, and there’s only one shot. That settled me an awful lot.”

The walk down the 18th was unforgettable, Lowry said.

“It was just incredible to walk down 18. The crowd is going wild, singing ‘OlÃ, OlÃ’.

“I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me. It was nice, very nice of Paddy (Harrington) and G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) to be standing on the back of the tee for me.

“And obviously to have all my friends and family. I spotted my family when I walked around the corner to have a look where the flag was, and I spotted them all at the back of the green. To be honest, I welled up a little bit and (my caddie) Bo told me to catch a hold of myself, I still have to hit a shot. Thankfully I hit a decent shot in there and two-putted.

“I walked down there and I tried to soak it in as much as I could. It was hard to soak it in because it’s very surreal. It’s a very surreal experience going down there. Especially with, I’m sure there was, a lot of the crowd that wanted me to win today.”