PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – An Irishman was predicted to be leading the 148th British Open at Royal Portrush. Not many thought it would be Shane Lowry.
While Rory McIlroy was struggling just to make the cut, Lowry was playing his way into a tie for the lead with J.B. Holmes.
Lowry returned a second successive 4-under 67 to move to 8-under and join Holmes at the top of the leaderboard. They are one shot ahead of Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood.
The 32-year-old played Royal Portrush’s front nine in 31 shots, 5-under. He got to 10 under with a birdie on the 10th, but dropped a shot at the 14th before bogeying the 18th. Lowry duffed his 8-iron approach to the last and failed to get up and down.
“Obviously it could have been better,” he admitted. “I got a little tentative.”
Lowry has been in position to win a major before. He began the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont with a four-shot lead, but slumped to a closing 76 to finish T-2.
“Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger. I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I’ll be better. It definitely won’t affect me what happened at Oakmont. I’ve got over that. It took me a while to get over it, but I got over it.
“I’ve just got to go out and do my best and if that’s good enough at the end of the day, we’ll have a good night Sunday.”
Lowry has lived in McIlroy’s shadow for most of his life. He played junior golf against the childhood prodigy from Holywood. In fact, Lowry got his first big break because of McIlroy. In 2005, McIlroy decided not to participate in an Irish Boys’ squad session. Lowry took his place. The boy from Clara in County Offaly to the west of Dublin impressed the selectors so much he became a permanent member of Irish amateur squads.
Still, McIlroy was the kid who would be king. Lowry was the “fat kid with the glasses.” That was the description renowned coach Pete Cowen hung around Lowry’s neck when he watched both in a Golfing Union of Ireland junior practice session. Thankfully, that junior could play. He proved that before embarking on his professional career.
Lowry won the 2009 Irish Open while still an amateur. He’s added another three European Tour victories, including this year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The portly professional will probably never emerge from McIlroy’s shadow. However, he’s 36 holes from joining McIlroy in golf’s exclusive major club, a club that contains just five Irishmen. Can Lowry become the sixth?