What a week for sports it was in Britain! There was the British Grand Prix, Wimbledon men’s final and the Cricket World Cup final all on July 14, with the Netball World Cup ongoing in England at the same time as well. A week later the British Open crowned one of the most popular major winners in recent memory.
Shane Lowry’s six-shot win at the Open at the Royal Portrush last Sunday would’ve been, without a shadow of doubt, the sporting story of the year in Britain, had it not been for the events happening around it. Of course, England happened to win their first ever men’s ICC ODI World Cup, and local hero Lewis Hamilton edged closer to all-time greatness with a stellar win at the British Grand Prix, just a week before Lowry won his first major on home turf.
True, what Hamilton is producing has been unparalleled in recent F1 memory, and England did come out on top in the World Cup final in what might just have been the most thrilling ODI of all time. But there was something about Lowry’s winning moment that stood out.
As Lowry teed off in the last pairing on the final Sunday alongside England’s Tommy Fleetwood the Irishman held a four-shot lead. It was the same lead that he had had at Oakmont Country Club on the final Sunday over Dustin Johnson and Andrew Landry at the 2016 US Open. Lowry had famously blown it to hand Johnson his first and only major win.
The talk leading up to Sunday had been all about Lowry and if the lightning would strike twice for him. He was being chased by, among others, Brooks Koepka – the World No 1, who had won four of the previous nine majors and finished in the top two in each of the three majors this year.
Koepka, who habitually brings his A-game to the majors stirred the mind games early, bringing up what happened “the last time Shane had the lead” in the lead up to the final round. However, by the time Lowry’s time had come to tee off, the American was half way through his run of four successive bogeys to start off the final day, which eventually culminated in him finishing tied for fourth with Lee Westwood at six-under.
While Koepka had been basking in major glory in recent times, Lowry had lost his PGA Tour card owing to a run of poor performances. And with the likes of Fleetwood, Koepka, Westwood, Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari, among others, in the chasing pack, Lowry might have felt he still had to climb a mountain early morning on the final day.
This storm that must’ve been brewing inside was matched picturesquely by the one that was thundering on the outside. As the rain poured down, the winner of the Open was going to be decided by one’s ability to master the natural elements. It was links golf, at its primitive, grueling, best.
Perhaps it was the similar magnitude of the internal and external turmoil that gave Lowry the equilibrium that he needed. He knew the start was always going to be pivotal, especially after JB Holmes and Rickie Fowler had seen the heavy wind take their tee-shots out of bounds over the previous couple of groupings, while Koepka was striking consecutive bogeys.
Lowry’s tee-shot wasn’t ideal either, especially when coupled with that of Fleetwood – the only man with a realistic chance of catching the leader at the start of play, barring a record-shattering capitulation. Where the Englishman was zooming in on a birdie, the Irishman was certain to go over.
At the end of the opening hole, Fleetwood and Lowry both had putts from the roughly same distance for a birdie and a bogey respectively. On a day, when everyone was speaking about the nerves for the unheralded leader, this right here was a potential two stroke swing, at a time when the lead was four.
After Fleetwood missed his chance to go one under, Lowry had a five foot putt to ensure that the lead remained at three-stokes. He buried the putt, and summoned a fist pump that rarely follows a bogey-five. However, it was this unleashing of positive energy that set the tone for Lowry, eventually culminating in the six-shot triumph.
Lowry’s one-over 72, was by far his highest round over the week, having shot 67, 67 and 63 in the first three rounds – the latter eventually being the decider for the Irishman. But the challenge of the elements, especially as the final few groupings were teeing off, can be gauged by the fact that none of the final top five finished under par on Sunday.
Lowry knew at the start of the day that he would, in all probability, not need to strike under par on final day. Eventually even +1 on the final Sunday was enough to crown an immensely popular triumph – especially in the neck of the woods, where the entirety of the action transpired.
For, it wasn’t just the players that weathered the storm on final Sunday. Hordes of locals had decided to battle it out to bask in Lowry’s glory. And they clung on tight, and throughout, to the emotional rollercoaster that this year’s British Open was.
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