Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts to his birdie on the 15th green during the third round of the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland on July 20. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The way Shane Lowry, the British Open’s leader through 54 holes, tells the story, he taught himself to play golf as a child, annoying his parents and teachers by sneaking away to play solitary rounds of pitch and putt.

His father, Brendan, had a storied career in Gaelic football, a combination of rugby and soccer. His friends took to hurling, a lacrosse-like sport where players whack a ball around a pitch with open-faced bats instead of catching it with a stick.

Instead, Lowry was honing his short game and finally took to proper golf at age 12. A decade later, in 2009, he was Britain and Ireland’s next great amateur golfer after Rory McIlroy had turned pro two years earlier.

Lowry won a chance to be one of four amateurs to compete in the Irish Open, the nation’s top tournament, with the stated goal to simply make the cut. Instead, he won the whole thing after a three-hole playoff. He turned pro four days later.

A decade later, he’s putting together the best year of his professional career. He finished eighth at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in May. He carded a blistering 8-under 63 on Saturday at Royal Portrush to take a four-shot lead into the final round over Tommy Fleetwood.

Lowry, 32, had a chance for birdie on the 18th hole that came up half an inch short. Had it dropped, he would have tied the mark for the lowest round in the tournament’s history. As it stands, he’s now the owner of the British Open’s 54-hole record (197).

He’s climbed the leader board day by day, picking up confidence at the course not even 200 miles from his hometown, rounding into form after a rough start to begin the year.

“I felt like I could come here and come under the radar,” Lowry said. “I’m not quite under the radar anymore. I didn’t feel like a forgotten Irishman. But hopefully, I’m the one they’re talking about tomorrow evening.”

In 10 tournaments before the British Open, he missed the cut five times. He seemed to have righted the ship at the RBC Heritage in April, but didn’t make the weekend the very next week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

At the RBC Canadian Open in June, he finished second, seven shots behind McIlroy, for a $668,800 payday. But he stumbled to 28th at his next start, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, leaving him on uncertain footing.

“I don’t feel like practice went unbelievably well this week. I felt a little bit uncomfortable,” he told the Irish Times about his training sessions at Royal Portrush.

He and Coach Neil Manchip headed to a local pub Wednesday night to talk things out, chatting for 40 minutes over coffee.

“We just put everything out in the open, everything out on the table, what could happen, what might happen,” he said. “I left that room full of confidence and ready to go. (But) I was probably as nervous as I’ve been in quite a while on the first tee, almost ever, I’d say.

“It’s the British Open, it’s in Ireland, I’m playing well, I feel like I should come up and do well. I’m sure there’s plenty of golfers standing on the first tee feeling uneasy. You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t nervous or uneasy about playing in the biggest tournament in the world.

“I just hope I’m nervous on Sunday afternoon out there. It’s right where you want to be, and you have to tell yourself that when you’re there. Where would you rather be? Would you rather be here or sitting at home watching on TV?”

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Complete British Open leader board