Shane Lowry believes he is better equipped to defend a four-shot lead at the British Open on Sunday than three years ago when a final round collapse cost him the US Open.
Roared on by adoring crowds at Royal Portrush, the Irishman carded a sensational eight-under par 63 on Saturday to move to 16-under and four clear of England’s Tommy Fleetwood.
“Honestly, that’s the most incredible day I’ve ever had on the golf course. I honestly can’t explain what it was like,” said Lowry.
“I said to (his caddie) Bo walking off the 17th tee, we might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let’s enjoy this next half hour.
“The crowd was incredible. I just can’t believe what it was like.”
Resuming at eight-under as joint overnight leader with J.B. Holmes, Lowry made a fast start by picking up three shots on the front nine to move one in front.
However, it was coming home that he streaked clear of the field as the wind dropped for birdies at 10, 12, 15, 16 and 17.
Lowry hit a 65 to open up a four-shot lead at the US Open after 54 holes at Oakmont in 2016 before a six-over par final round cost him the chance of a first major title.
However, he believes the birth of his two-year-old daughter since then has made him less desperate for success on the golf course.
“I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont. I’m going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow,” he added.
“It probably doesn’t mean as much to me as it did then, which is going to make it a little bit easier.
“I think I learned a few things that day about playing in the final round of a major with a lead, that you need to just hang in until the very last minute.
“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.”
– Fleetwood happy wind, rain or shine –
AFP / Paul ELLIS
Tommy Fleetwood is four off the lead heading into the final round of the British Open
Fleetwood is the man tasked with applying the pressure as he too seeks a first ever major title.
And the Englishman is also revelling in the atmosphere in Northern Ireland, even if he knows local support will not be on his side come Sunday.
“The atmosphere for us as golfer was just great. I loved it. For or against you, you can’t help but appreciate and love what today was and what tomorrow is going to be,” said Fleetwood.
“Tomorrow is not going to be any quieter. For sure tomorrow playing with Shane, last day. It’s going to be more challenging to control yourself in the atmosphere and being in the middle of that, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Tee times have been moved forward with far more inclement weather expected on Sunday.
World number one Brooks Koepka at nine-under admitted he hopes the leaders are blown off course by the expected strong winds and rain, but Fleetwood played down the importance on conditions.
“It’s the best golfers in the world. I feel like the guys that are up there on the leaderboard, from what I’ve seen, are not going to be too fussed about the conditions,” he added.
“I personally don’t mind the conditions, whatever they are. I feel like I’ve had some of my best rounds in terrible, terrible conditions, where I’ve enjoyed grinding it out.
“Shane has definitely not played in sunshine and no wind all his life. So it’s not going to be a problem for him, either.”