Shane Lowry proves his mettle as major lapses hit Rory McIlroy: British Open takeaways
The 148th British Open concluded on Sunday with Ireland’s Shane Lowry holding the Claret Jug. We look at some of the main talking points from a memorable week at Royal Portrush Golf Club
Lowry proves his major mettle
Shane Lowry had a feeling coming into the week. He had always enjoyed Royal Portrush; born south of the border, he won an amateur championship there in 2008.
Yet even when he woke on Sunday, with a four-shot lead at a “home” Open, having played electric golf in an electric atmosphere the previous day, the Irishman wasn’t convinced he had what it took to become a major champion.
Then Lowry battled the burden of expectation, the demons of letting slip a similar 54-hole lead at the 2016 US Open, and at times the elements, to never let that advantage relinquish.
In the end, he shot a wholly impressive 1-over 71 to win by six. Almost exactly one year ago, Lowry sat in the car park at Carnoustie in tears, following an opening 74 and staring at a fourth straight missed cut in the tournament he held above all else.
His game was deserting him, his world ranking slipping to 92nd. He lost his PGA Tour card. But, in the glare of the Sunday spotlight, Lowry displayed his mettle. The reigning Abu Dhabi champion has always had the game. He proved he possesses the grit, too.
Fleetwood feels a future Open champion
Tommy Fleetwood was struggling to keep it together. Speaking post-round, despite carding a runner-up finish and with it his best result to date at the Open, the Englishman couldn’t mask his disappointment.
He’d played beautifully, he said, but didn’t capitalise on some unerring iron play on Sunday, especially during the early holes. Sink those seemingly makeable putts through that opening stretch, and he would have ratcheted up the pressure on playing partner Lowry.
Although Lowry was never really troubled by the chasing pack – a significant part in him getting over the line – Fleetwood’s double-bogey on 14 rather confirmed the conclusion of his challenge.
Yet, as much as he conveyed his pain afterwards, Fleetwood can take huge positives from the week. The 2017 European No 1 appears a major champion in waiting, and the Open looks the best chance to break through. He grew up on links courses, and undoubtedly has the talent and the temperament.
Typically, he was magnanimous in defeat, as a close friend pipped him to the trophy. However painful, Portrush strengthened what many expect: that Fleetwood’s time will come.
Major lapses hitting McIlroy hard
Coming into the week, Rory McIlroy ranked as favourite. With two victories and 11 top 10s in 14 starts, the world No 3 was enjoying the most consistent season of an already formidable career. Born around an hour away, he held the course record at Royal Portrush, shooting a 61, aged 16, in 2005.
Although the course had changed considerably, the four-time major champion was hotly tipped to halt a five-year major drought. Yet an opening 79 left McIlroy with a mountain to climb. In the end, he couldn’t scale it, despite a superb display on Friday. He missed the cut by one.
However, question marks persist. McIlroy passed off Thursday as a “blip”, but he played one of his worst rounds when it really mattered. With the pressure to perform peaking, he began with a quadruple-bogey. Once more, when the glare of expectation was at its strongest, lapses of concentration cost him.
Undeniably, four majors to this point have secured McIlroy’s place among golf’s greats, but still, his talent demands more. As his emotional post-round interview on Friday portrayed, he will be left to rue this for some time.
Weary Woods playing through the pain
Tiger Woods teed off on the first on Thursday, then grimaced clearly. Immediately, concerns grew that his troublesome back was not quite right, that a 2018 spent chasing a return to the pinnacle had taken more from him than he wished to admit.
That that transcendent victory at the Masters in April could prove his one, final great act, a swansong rather than the establishment of another run at Jack Nicklaus’ record major haul. Woods opened his Open with a 78 on Thursday, then battled back – somewhat – with a 70 the following day. But it still left him well short of the cut.
He concluded an albeit successful major season two days early. Afterwards, he relayed that he was tired and sore; “I just want to go home,” he imparted. It offered an insight into Woods’ typically fortressed frame of mind. Since the Masters, the 15-time major champion has played 12 competitive rounds.
He prepared for the Open by holidaying in Thailand. He ended it by implying there won’t be too much golf for the foreseeable future. After the majesty of his Masters triumph, doubt dents Woods once more.
Portrush comeback could be swift
It took 68 years for Royal Portrush to host the Open for a second time. In the five years since its return was confirmed, excitement had swiftly built. Such was the clamour, for the first time in its history the Open was made an all-ticket event. The championship days sold out almost immediately.
On Friday, organisers R&A announced attendance would max at 237,750, the tournament's second highest after the 239,000 at St Andrew’s in 2000. The atmosphere was incredible throughout, reaching its crescendo with Lowry at the weekend. Collectively, the players praised the set-up and the surroundings, the course standing up spectacularly and offering a fair test.
Back on the Open rota, Royal Portush has been guaranteed two more championships in the next 30 years. However, reports emerged on Sunday that the R&A are contemplating bringing it back to Northern Ireland’s north coast in 2024. There can be no truer endorsement of its success.
That Portrush-resident Darren Clarke opened the tournament with its first shot, and Ireland’s Lowry culminated it clasping the Claret Jug, felt rather fitting.
Updated: July 24, 2019 04:26 AM