Ireland’s Shane Lowry produced a course record 63 in the third round of the Open Championship to take him into a four-shot lead at Royal Portrush.
Lifted by tidal wave of Irish support, Lowry carded eight birdies and no bogeys to finish on 16 under par, with Tommy Fleetwood his closest rival on 12 under after a 66. JB Holmes is third on 10 under, one head of Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka. The latter ended his round on Saturday with birdies at 17 and 18 to keep himself in contention to win a fifth major in his last ten appearances.
But Saturday belonged to the 32-year-old Lowry, who started the round tied at the top of the leaderboard alongside Holmes and was in sensational form from the first hole until the last, hitting 17 of the 18 greens in regulation as he set a new course record.
Cheered on by an increasingly noisy partisan crowd, the cheers became so loud at one point that that Fleetwood and playing partner Lee Westwood, who were in the group in front, had to wait to play their tee shots on the 18th.
And there were incredible scenes as Lowry walked down the last. Scenes usually reserved for the final day of the championship, as fans stood to applaud and cheer their man as he completed a memorable round.
With home favourite Rory McIlroy missing Friday’s halfway cut by one shot, despite a superb second round 65, the fans put their support behind Lowry, and he rose to the occasion.
He came with an inch of matching Branden Grace’s major championship record of 62, set at The Open two years ago at Birkdale, but his effort for birdie on the 18th missed by the smallest of margins, hanging tantalisingly on the edge of the cup. Nevertheless, his 197 total is the lowest after 54 holes in Open history and he has, so far, shown little signs of faltering in his pursuit of a first major success.
And amid the chaotic scenes on the 18th as Lowry putted for par, his playing partner Holmes holed a birdie putt to ensure a positive end to a mixed round.
The American had kept pace with Lowry through the first 12 holes, sinking three birdies without dropping a shot, but bogeys on the 13th and 14th allowed Lowry to move clear. Holmes finished with a 69 and starts Sunday’s round six shots off the pace.
However, Lowry knows as well as anyone that there is still a long way to go. Three years ago he went into the final round of the US Open with a four-shot lead only to let that tournament slip from his grasp with a final-round 76.
“I hope I’m going to be able to deal with it better,” said Lowry. “I know it’s going to be difficult and hard but hopefully I am ready for it. “I have a tough 24 hours ahead of me, but there’s nowhere I would rather be. I have a four-shot lead in an Open in Ireland. Sunday is going to be incredible no matter what happens.”
With adverse weather forecast for Sunday, tee times have been brought forward with the first tee time at 7:32am, with the leaders beginning their final round at 1.47pm.