PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Of all the sounds that sports seem to make better than any other sphere of life, here came one of the choicest. It hit the ear like something that rustled up out of soccer or rugby or Gaelic football. It kept going and going, long after one of the prettiest 63s anybody ever saw had concluded, until it tingled both the back end of the golf course and the back end of the neck.
It was the sound of mass singing, serenading Shane Lowry from outside the fences during his TV interviews, after he took a populous leader board by the scruff and shook the whole thing to four shots behind him Saturday at this 148th British Open. Song after song, it reinforced what Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said about golf long uniting this two-nation island of Ireland in all its directions. And it celebrated that while this return to Royal Portrush after 68 years logically threw attention onto those from Northern Ireland — McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke — the guy to watch all the way to his current 16 under par drove in from 191 miles south, from Ireland.
From County Offaly not so far down there comes Lowry, 32, who said, “Obviously I’m not quite under the radar anymore.”
Asked whether he ever heard such noise on a golf course, he said, “No.”
Then: “Honestly, that’s the most incredible day I’ve ever had on a golf course. I honestly can’t explain what it was like.” He said that at No. 17 he told caddie Bo Martin, “We might never have a day like this on the golf course again, so let’s enjoy this next half-hour.”
“And that’s what I did,” he said.
This semi-burly man with a hearty beard and a ready smile played in the last pairing Saturday, in tame weather with some real junk still on the way from the Atlantic (which has prompted the tournament to move up Sunday tee times by two hours). He birdied the par-3 No. 3 with a 9-iron to four feet. He birdied the par-4 No. 5 with a pitching wedge from 70 yards to six feet. He birdied the par-4 No. 9 with an 8-iron to 10 feet. He birdied the par-4 No. 10 with a 7-iron to eight feet. He birdied the par-5 No. 12 with a 6-iron to 25 feet and a lag putt to two feet. He birdied the par-4 No. 15 (9-iron to 12 feet), the frightening par-3 No. 16 named Calamity Corner (4-iron to 10 feet) and the par-4 No. 17 (lob wedge to next door).
“To be honest, I really don’t remember much about the round,” he said — a sure sign of dreaminess.
He damn near birdied No. 18 from halfway to yonder, and when that little rascal took up shop right next to the cup, Lowry had the 12th 63 in Open history, one shy of the record 62 from Branden Grace in 2017 on the Saturday at Royal Birkdale. He also looked like he had the tournament, four shots ahead of England’s absurdly promising Tommy Fleetwood, six ahead of J.B. Holmes, seven ahead of Justin Rose and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, even as Lowry merely had turned up at the same perch he reached at the 2016 U.S. Open, leading by four after three rounds.
That Sunday, he shot 76, finished second at Oakmont in Pennsylvania and said: “I really feel like I let it go today, and it’s a great disappointment. The more I think about it, the more upset I’m getting.”
After his 63, when someone said “Oakmont,” Lowry said with gleaming eyes, “I was waiting for that [question].” Next: “Look, obviously I learned a lot that day. I feel like I’m a different person. I don’t think I’m a much different golfer, but I feel like I’m a different person now. I think that’s what will help me tomorrow.”
Hours earlier, he and everybody but the guy serving pulled pork at the concession stand were bunched together in leader-board logjams such as a four-way tie for the lead. Soon, Lowry began the hard art of shooing them all into the distance.
Fleetwood shot a mighty 66 without a bogey in sight but wound up saying one “can easily get frustrated” given such a surge from a rival. Kentuckian Holmes, paired with Lowry on Saturday after thriving Thursday and Friday, shot a perfectly commendable 69, recognized the experience as so much of what sports are about and called it “something I’ll never forget.”
Koepka, the world’s best player, used the world’s cleanest shotmaking to reach 67 but saw his putts keep standing just outside the holes harrumphing at him and said: “Yeah, nobody has hit it better than me this week. I’ve hit it as good as I can possibly imagine. I putted the worst in the entire field, if you look at strokes gained . . . It’s been really bad. Very frustrating. Disappointed.”
Nobody with any sense could sneer at Rose’s 68, and while he looked for hope in the coming weather tumult of Sunday, he also said of Lowry and such weather, “He’s Irish.”
Rickie Fowler’s smashing 66 got him to 8 under and prompted him to say rationally, “We just gave ourselves a chance.” Then Lowry went and pretty much refuted the statement.
“He has an amazing short game,” Fleetwood said. “And I’ve always loved his golf swing . . . I appreciate the flow he has throughout his game, really.”
While his record fizzled some after Oakmont, with seven missed cuts in 10 majors at one stage, he’s four years older with a marriage and a 2-year-old daughter, thus relieved of some of the terrible want that can ruin Sundays.
“I’m not going to be sitting there tomorrow morning in the house in a corner trying not to think about the day ahead,” Lowry said. “Obviously I’ll go to bed thinking about holding the claret jug tomorrow evening. It’s only natural, isn’t it? We’re human. We’re not robots. We can’t not think about things. And when you try not to think about something, you end up thinking about it more, so you might as well talk about it.”
They’ll talk about it all the way to the course, the throngs for this long-awaited event. Then they’ll talk with volume, such that “honestly,” Lowry said, “walking from the green to the next tee, the people are literally a yard away from you roaring in your face as loud as they can.”
And as they sang their way into Saturday night on the Irish island, Fleetwood said, “Tomorrow is not going to be any quieter.”