Shane Lowry Wins Emotional British Open
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Even in the pin-rattling wind and the heavy rain that often seemed to be falling horizontally, Shane Lowry made winning his first major championship look as natural and easy as his light-up-the-clubhouse grin.
He had a four-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round. He increased it to win the British Open by six strokes, finishing at 15 under par and transforming the typically fraught closing holes into a merry march through the drizzle as his compatriots — Irish and Northern Irish alike — accompanied him with song, roars and good cheer.
Toasts — surely many toasts — will be forthcoming.
“Portrush could be pretty messy later,” said Graeme McDowell, a Portrush native who won a major of his own at the 2010 United States Open.
But don’t be fooled. Golf is “fickle,” as Lowry, a 32-year-old with a thicket of a beard, reminded his audience as the claret jug awarded to the champion shone brightly in front of him.
Only a year ago, a despondent Lowry sat in the parking lot at the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. He was on his way to missing the cut at a fourth straight Open after an opening-round 74 and had decided he needed to separate from his longtime caddie Dermot Byrne.
“I cried,” Lowry said matter-of-factly on Sunday. “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.”
His timing was certainly impeccable. The Open Championship had not been held on the island of Ireland since Royal Portrush staged it in 1951, but Lowry navigated the long-awaited opportunity brilliantly in all kinds of weather.
As the thunderous support on Saturday and Sunday made clear, this was a unifying moment for the Irish even if the locals would surely have found a victory by a Northern Irish star like Rory McIlroy or McDowell to be the perfect ending. Still, it was quite a symbolic finish and quite a breakthrough moment for Lowry, whose talent has been widely apparent since he won the Irish Open as an amateur in similarly nasty weather in 2009.
His father, Brendan, was once a Gaelic football star in Ireland. Though Brendan, trying to keep his son from getting nervous, sometimes tried to hide when he watched Shane play in his younger years, he was waiting at the 18th green on Sunday with Padraig Harrington and Lowry’s wife, Wendy, and 2-year-old daughter, Iris.
Shane Lowry spotted them all before he hit his final approach shot. “To be honest, I welled up a little bit,” he said. “Thankfully I hit a decent shot in there and two-putted.”
At Portrush, his opening-round 67 put him one stroke off the lead. His second-round 67 gave him a share of the lead with J. B. Holmes. His brilliant third round, at 63, gave him a four-stroke lead over the Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and a bigger edge over a leaderboard featuring major champions like Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth.
Then came Sunday and what is so often the hardest part for gifted men like Lowry who once were small boys making putts to win the Open in their own backyards.
“Obviously, I didn’t sleep very well,” 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.”
In 2016, Lowry held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club but faded with a six-over-par 76, finishing tied for second behind the champion, Dustin Johnson.
This time, Lowry held firm, outplaying Fleetwood in the final group to shoot a one-over 72 that was remarkable in view of the conditions.
“I think that makes Shane’s round of one over even more impressive, controlling the day like he did,” said Fleetwood, who finished second at nine under. “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.”
With the weather worsening, no player shot under par in the final 12 pairings on Sunday. Tony Finau of the United States was one of the few in that talented group who managed a 71.
“Par is a great score when you know you’re playing a golf course like this,” said Finau, who finished in third place over all at seven under.
Lee Westwood, an Englishman still chasing his first major championship at age 46, finished in a tie for fourth with Koepka at six under. Holmes, in the mix at the top all week, collapsed with a final-round 87.
Koepka, the reigning P.G.A. champion and the most consistent performer in the majors over the last two seasons, was seven strokes off the lead as the final round began. He missed the chance to apply early pressure on Lowry by bogeying the first four holes before recovering with an eagle on the fifth.
For Lowry, the key hole on Sunday just might have been the first. The crowd cheered at length as he was introduced on the first tee. The grandstand was full. So was the long two-tiered hospitality marquee lining the first fairway. There were serial shouts of “Shane,” but Lowry hit his 2-iron off the tee into the left rough. His next shot, a 4-iron, ended up in a bunker. But he blasted out and then two-putted for bogey from 40 feet as Fleetwood missed a 10-foot birdie putt that could have made for a very quick two-shot swing.
Instead, Lowry’s lead stayed at three strokes — “That settled me an awful lot,” he said — and neither Fleetwood nor anyone else would manage to get closer.
Lowry’s umbrella collapsed at one stage on the stormy front nine, but Lowry never did. He did have tense phases, including bogeys on the eighth, the ninth and the 11th when the weather was its worse. But no one else was gaining ground at that stage, and the fans were still cheering, even if they were often drenched.
“While we were on the eighth, I said to Shane, ‘Can you imagine being out here watching us playing golf?’” said Brian Martin, Lowry’s caddie. “There’s no chance I’d be out here. I’d be inside. Fair play to them.”
Above all, well-played to Lowry, who birdied the 16th to restore his six-stroke lead and was then able to revel in the atmosphere on 18 as he became the first golfer from the Republic of Ireland to win the Open since Harrington did so in 2007 and 2008.
Northern Irish golfers have won it twice since then: Darren Clarke in 2011 and McIlroy in 2014.
But none of those men won the Open so close to home with tens of thousands of Irish fans singing to them in the rain.
It was the chance of a lifetime, and Lowry, who grew up a few hours’ drive south in Clara, did not squander it.