The claret jug belongs to Shane Lowry of Ireland. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

By Chuck Culpepper

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — A happy story played out in sad-story weather on an exuberant Sunday of good spirits and other spirits at Royal Portrush. It reiterated the time-honored idea that heartbreak plus time can equal strength. It retold of golf’s mad fickleness in that it happened 12 months after — oh, gosh — an Irish golfer wept in a Scottish car park.

Somehow that same Irish golfer, 32-year-old Shane Lowry, walked the 72nd hole amid delirious cheering with a six-shot lead and tranquil nerve endings and said, “I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.” The first British Open in Northern Ireland in 68 years had been an unmitigated smash, reaping raves for its course, its town and its coastline. Now it ushered to the claret jug a winner whose popularity ricocheted all through the 7,344-yard way, a runaway winner at 15 under par who learned from fumbling a four-shot lead with 18 holes to play at the 2016 U.S. Open, a winner 367 days removed from crying over what became a missed cut at Carnoustie.

Now he smiled from here to Clara, his town in County Offaly four driving hours south across the blessedly soft border. A man with a full-on beard lived his childhood daydream, and golf had wrung from him a happiness only a wretch could begrudge.

“Golf is a weird sport,” he said, his four-shot lead actually having widened Sunday this time, “and you never know what’s around the corner. That’s why you need to remind yourself and you need others there to remind you. You need to fight through the bad times. I sat in the car park in Carnoustie on Thursday almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried. Golf wasn’t my friend at the time. It was something that had become very stressful, and it was weighing on me, and I just didn’t like doing it. And look …”

And look. The world’s No. 33 player, who had painted himself “bitterly disappointed” after that splat of a 76 at Oakmont three summers ago, had spent Sunday never even straying into much peril or many weeds. He had never seen his lead shrink to anything narrower than three.

He had prevailed through a day of nagging conditions and sagging scores, with a closing 72 that felt more like a 67, by a handy six shots over promising 28-year-old Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, who said of Lowry, “He literally controlled the tournament from the start of today until the end, and that’s a very, very impressive thing to do.” He had outdistanced by eight third-place Tony Finau and by nine the fourth-place tie of 46-year-old Lee Westwood and No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who joined Jack Nicklaus (twice), Tiger Woods (twice), Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth as the only golfers to finish in the top five of all four majors in a given year.

Lowry had gotten booming applause upon introduction at No. 1, then had sent a “ropy” tee shot into the tamer vegetation on the left, then a second shot into a bunker to a mass groan. Still, spectators had sung “Shane Lowry” to the tune of “Volare.” He steadied himself even on holes No. 6 through 9, when the raining deluge and harassing wind combined for outright atmospheric rudeness, such that his two bogeys in that stretch felt like pars. After that cleared, he had plopped in an eight-foot birdie putt on No. 15 and clenched his fist for a pump as he felt things clinched.

The people had roared whenever he emerged around a dune. They had formed droves beneath umbrellas on hills overlooking greens. They had driven north because of the situation, many of them, so they even would carry, in one case, an umbrella from Esker Hills, the course where Lowry learned. They had encouraged him through the gray day — “Oh, my God,” he said of the crowds — until the only crying this year tried to come on No. 18.

He had to stem it with the help of Bo Martin, the caddie who has shepherded his resurgence, after he looked behind the green and saw his wife, Wendy; his 2-year-old daughter, Iris; his father, Brendan, a renowned Gaelic footballer a generation ago; and good golf influences such as Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, whose haul of three major titles included the 2008 British Open at Royal Birkdale.

“You go into Paddy’s house and the claret jug is sitting on the kitchen table, and I’m going to have one on my kitchen table as well,” Lowry said, semi-mystified.

If only he could go back to No. 14 at Oakmont …

He said that again Sunday, three years after bogeying Nos. 14, 15 and 16 at that U.S. Open, the one remembered for the nutty rules violation that couldn’t sink champion Dustin Johnson. Everything had sped up that Sunday and had “spiraled out of control,” as Lowry put it. “It’s going to be one of those that’s very hard to take,” he had said, and he had missed cuts in seven of 10 majors thereafter.

Yet he had not become the only player in the past 25 years to lose two final-round leads of four or more shots in majors — something only seven players have suffered once in that span — and he did not become the subject of an eccentric sadness. “Look, I think I knew that I had to fight to the bitter end today, and that’s what helped me, and that’s where I struggled at Oakmont,” he said. “I always said after Oakmont, if I could have got the last four holes back, I’d give anything to be standing on that 14th fairway again.”

Now, as the revelers kept on singing in the rain outside the interview tent, that day from June 2016 had entirely different framework. So did what Lowry said at the end of that long-gone day: “I’m definitely good enough to win one of these.” So did another thing he said: “I’m sure I learned a lot from today, and I don’t know what it is yet, but when I’m in that position again, and I know I will be, I’ll handle it probably a lot better.”

And so did one glum little scene in a Carnoustie car park.

Hole-by-hole updates

By Cindy Boren in Washington

No. 18 (par-4, 440 yards)

No doubt about it, the claret jug goes to Lowry.

Result: Lowry par

No. 17 (par-4, 401 yards)

Lowry did what he needed to do, coming away with par while Fleetwood did the same, and headed for the chaotic, happy scene at No. 18 with a six-stroke lead and his name already engraved on the claret jug.

Result: Lowry par

No. 16 (par-3, 209 yards)

Fleetwood got the par putt he needed to stay two strokes ahead of Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka. Lowry managed his par putt and takes a six-stroke lead to 17 as the crowd began its boisterous chants.

Result: Lowry par

No. 15 (par-4, 431 yards)

Lowry no doubt was hoping for a respite from the stress and sent his tee shot down the fairway. You could hear his “phew” from this side of the Atlantic. No sweat with the second shot; that wound up about 15 feet from the hole. That put the pressure on Fleetwood, whose second shot landed far back of the hole. If he were going to make a move, trailing by five with four holes left, this would have been the time to do so.

Lowry, though, had other ideas. He landed a birdie that just may have sealed his win by nailing his birdie putt for a six-stroke lead while Fleetwood salvaged par.

Result: Lowry birdie

No. 14 (par-4, 463 yards)

Lowry got what he needed when Fleetwood took some of the pressure off by sending his tee shot into bunker and following up with a shot far past the hole and up a hill. Perhaps letting up a bit, Lowry sent his tee shot to the left, hitting a only once in his last six tee shots. Lowry, whose third shot left him with a long putt for par, settled for his fifth bogey of the round, dropping to 14-under. No harm, no foul, though, for Lowry with Fleetwood departing 14 with a double bogey and moving to 9-under.

Result: Lowry bogey

No. 13 (par-3, 193 yards)

With the wind kicking up with wicked gusts, Fleetwood sent his tee short past the hole and way, way to the back of the green while Lowry found a bunker to the left of the hole. Oops. The situation left him with the possibility of seeing his lead shrink to three strokes with five holes to play. Fleetwood was left with a six-foot putt for par. Lowry? He sent a beauty of a shot to the hole and was left with a short putt for par. The result? Fleetwood converted, putting the pressure on Lowry. This guy, though — he converted, too, and maintained his four-stroke lead.

Result: Lowry par

No. 12 (par-5, 534 yards)

Lowry missed the bunker but his tee shot landed in the right rough while Fleetwood’s tee strike got nothing but fairway. Lowry was left with a 55-yard putt for birdie and, unlike on the last hole, he didn’t overstrike this one. He missed by a smidgen to the left and took the gimme for par. Fleetwood had the chance to close within three strokes with a long eagle putt. He left it short of the hole, though, and took a short putt for a birdie that cut Lowry’s lead to four.

Result: Lowry par

No. 11 (par-4, 446 yards)

With Lowry steady at 16-under and leading by six, time was running short for someone to make a run. Could anyone do it? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? A steady, conservative approach looked as if it might land the Irishman the claret jug.

Hmmm. Jinx. Lowry smacked a long putt for birdie, sending it well past the hole, and ended up with a bogey after his par putt went left. His lead slipped to five strokes.

Result: Lowry bogey

No. 10 (par-4, 462 yards)

Miracle of miracles, the rain let up at the turn. Fleetwood’s third shot left him with an eight-foot putt for par that he could not convert, slipping to 10-under. He dropped a shot while Lowry avoided making his third straight bogey, settling for par at 16-under.

Result: Lowry par

No. 9 (par-4, 436 yards)

The Open turned into a sopping wet adventure for its two leaders at 9. In what appeared to be a pouring rain, Lowry sent his tee shot right, right into the tall rough. Fleetwood landed in rough stuff, too.

It let up a bit as the two continued, but Lowry settled for his second consecutive bogey. Fleetwood managed par at the hole and Lowry’s lead shrank in the rain to five as they made the turn for the final nine holes.

Result: Lowry bogey

No. 8 (par-4, 484 yards)

A horrible, terrible, no good, awful shot by Fleetwood put Lowry in prime position to expand his lead. Lowry’s first shot found the rough, but his second ended up in the fairway. Fleetwood’s ball found rough stuff and berms to the right of the tee and he faced the prospect of shooting into a stiff wind. He got the ball to the fairway, but it landed a good distance from the hole as the skies opened up. Lowry, like Fleetwood, could do no better than bogey and his lead remained at six strokes.

Result: Lowry bogey

No. 7 (par-5, 586 yards)

Lowry sent a beautiful drive up the middle of the fairway, with Fleetwood answering with a shot to the right into tall grass and following up with another into a bunker. Fleetwood minimized the damage, salvaging par and avoiding a two-shot swing in Lowry’s favor. Lowry expanded his lead to six strokes with a birdie

Result: Lowry birdie

No. 6 (par-3, 174 yards)

Umbrellas out, not that they could do much on what became a certifiably blustery day. On the outward nine holes, golfers were 31-under through three rounds. On Sunday, they were 10 over through five holes. Lowry and Fleetwood maintained the status quo, each settling for par.

Result: Lowry par

No. 5 (par-4, 376 yards)

Fleetwood continued to struggle with his putting, settling for a birdie with another barely missed putt. Lowry? He had a chance at back-to-back birdies as the wind dramatically picked up and the rain fell. He converted, his 21st birdie of the Open. His lead remained five.

Result: Lowry birdie

No. 4 (par-4, 489 yards)

Lowry seemed more settled and made a statement with a five-foot putt for birdie and a five-stroke lead over Fleetwood, who left a putt for birdie less than an inch from the hole. Lowry was even for the day.

After a horrific, four-bogey start, Koepka struck an eagle on the fifth hole but was nine strokes back of Lowry.

Result: Lowry birdie

No. 3 (par-3, 180 yards)

Lowry left his long putt for birdie wide of the hole, but converted for par and remained at 1-over for the day. Fleetwood, however, struggled with a four-foot putt for par, missing for his first bogey in 23 holes. That restored Lowry’s four-stroke lead. Can he hold off Fleetwood, who shot a 66 Saturday and lost three strokes to Lowry’s blistering 63? Meanwhile, Westwood picked up a birdie at No. 5 and moved into sole possession of third place at 10-under. The 46-year-old Englishman was at 2-under for the day.

Result: Lowry par

No. 2 (par-5, 581 yards)

Neither Lowry nor Fleetwood could capitalize, settling for par after both sent tee shots into the rough. Fleetwood had the better chance, but his putt for birdie just skirted the edge of the cup and went wide. Lurking at 1-under through four holes were Fowler and Westwood, both six strokes back of Lowry at 9-under.

Result: Lowry par

No. 1 (par-4, 426 yards)

Fleetwood, who began the day four strokes back of Lowry (16-under entering the day), was far cooler than Lowry, who had admitted to a case of the nerves before the first round Thursday, and had a birdie opportunity on the first hole. He couldn’t convert, though, and settled for par as he picked up a stroke on Lowry, who came away with a bogey.

Result: Lowry bogey

Lowry, who hails from an area less than 200 miles from Portrush, had fans singing and chanting his name as he fired a brilliant 63 on Saturday.

“Can’t say enough about the tremendous support from the fans,” he tweeted Saturday evening. “It definitely brings a smile to my face. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

The question was how Lowry would hold up in windy, rainy conditions and while playing to defend his position against those with nothing to lose while training him on the leader board. Among those, Koepka, the two-time PGA and U.S. Open champion, remained dangerous and posted a 67 in the third round, marking the 18th under-par score he has put up in his last 20 rounds at a major. In those rounds, he is 56-under par.

Lowry on Saturday seemed determined to enjoy the ride, calling Saturday’s round, “the most incredible day I’ve ever had on a golf course” and said he told his caddie, Bo Martin, at No. 17 that “we might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let’s enjoy this next half-hour. You know what I mean? And that’s what I did.”

Read more coverage from The Post:

At British Open, Irishman Shane Lowry brings the noise with a third-round 63

Who is Shane Lowry? Meet the man who set the Open’s 54-hole record.

No one ever missed a cut quite like Rory McIlroy did at the British Open

Brooks Koepka looks every bit the British Open favorite with his caddie, a hometown favorite

Lee Westwood’s stunning spot on the leader board is as confounding as golf itself

Tiger Woods misses British Open cut: ‘I just want to go ho