THREE days carrying the hopes of a nation upon his back took their toll on Shane Lowry at Carton House, turning what promised to be a special day for the Clara champion, performing in front of family, friends and thousands of home supporters, into a waking nightmare.
Lowry’s overwhelming desire to score yet another famous victory for the home team at the Irish Open plainly got the better of him during a third round 74. On five-under, he’s an insurmountable eight shots behind leader Joost Luiten of Holland going into the final day.
There can be few more exasperating sports than golf and Lowry perfectly illustrated the extent of his frustration on the Montgomerie Course when he spoke of seeing a group of pals, the Lightning Bolts from St Mary’s Rugby Club, standing out from the 20,547 crowd in the shocking pink jerseys they wore in victory at the recent Kinsale Sevens.
“They were having much more craic than I was. I nearly wished I was out there with them,” said the Offaly native, who supported the Lightning Bolts in Kinsale, even sleeping in a VW camper van on a typical lads’ weekend.
“It just wasn’t there today. I went out and tried my best but unfortunately it wasn’t to be,” added Lowry. “I played my way out of this golf tournament and I don’t think I’ll shoot a good enough score tomorrow to win.”
“The really disappointing things is that I just didn’t enjoy one bit of it,” he lamented. “I should be out there enjoying myself. There were a few thousand people as well as
friends and family watching me.
“I don’t feel like I’ve let everyone down but if I’d shot a decent score, I’d have had a chance tomorrow. It wouldn’t have taken much to shoot two or three-under out there.”
Lowry created a sensation in 2009 by winning the Irish Open at Baltray as an amateur. He not only came into this year’s even with high hopes of victory but, as a resident of Carton House and the club’s touring professional, but also fully embraced the role of tournament host.
As leading Irishman after a first round 67, Lowry was tied third, just two off the pace, on Friday evening as all four of Ireland’s Major Champions, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, plus Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley missed the cut. Essentially, the 26-year-old carried alone the nation’s expectations.
Twenty-four hours later, he surrendered the mantle of leading home player to Peter Lawrie after a remarkable 67 lifted the Dubliner, 39, into a share of 18th place on six-under, a tad too far back to harbour high hopes of victory.
Still, Lawrie knows how to land birdies, collecting three on the bounce through nine and, after back-to-back bogeys at 10 and 11, picking up another three in succession on 12, 13 and 14.
Pablo Larrazabal was Luiten’s closest challenger on 12-under after both shot 66. The Spaniard’s card was flawless yesterday but the most impressive statistic of them all belonged to the 27-year-old flying Dutchman, who didn’t hit his ball into any of Monty’s cavernous fairway bunkers in his first three rounds.
Robert Rock, third on 10-under after a subdued 71 yesterday, should be forgiven if he heaved a sigh of relief that he at least won’t endure another sudden-death showdown with Lowry in front of the Offaly man’s home crowd. The Englishman and his caddie looked very lonely indeed in the deluge at Baltray four years ago.
Lowry wasn’t the only frustrated young man at Carton. Peter Uihlein also slid out of contention with a 74, the magic spell surrounding the 23-year-old American’s putter was broken when he missed a two-footer on the way to an ugly double-bogey at the short third.
Though nervous and excited as he set-out on his third round, Lowry set pulses racing in the huge galleries following his two-ball with Raphael Jacquelin of France when he rolled home a five foot putt for a facile birdie at the second.
All seemed well but after failing to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker for birdie at the par five fourth, the bubbling pot boiled over at six, Lowry slumping over his club in near-despair after hitting his tee shot through the fairway into a bunker.
“The sixth hole was my first bogey of the day and there is just one place you
don’t hit it and I hit it there,” he sighed. “That was brain-dead really. I made a lot of poor decisions today. Mentally, I just wasn’t there.
“I was still hitting decent shots but I missed a few putts and lost a bit of
confidence on the greens and that was it really.
“It was the exact same thing as last Saturday when I played poorly in Munich,” Lowry added, hitting the nail on the head when he said: “Maybe I was trying too hard.”
England’s Paul Casey shot 67 to thrust himself into contention on nine with young Scott Henry, while 2012 Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal and his big-hitting fellow-Spaniard Alvaro Quiros were prominent in the five-man group on eight-under.
Rookie professional Alan Dunbar chipped-in for eagle three at the last hole of his third round 69 to force his way into a share of 21st on five under par with Lowry and Belfast’s Gareth Shaw, 27, who posted a satisfying 70.
“I didn’t play great but I’m happy,” said Portrush native Dunbar, while Shaw admitted: “two bogeys in the last three holes leaves a sour taste, though it’s still encouraging to shoot a couple under on a Saturday at the Irish Open.
“Top 10 would get me in The French Open next week and that’d be cool,” added Shaw. “But I’m just trying to play well and see what happens. It's a bit of a bonus, I’m here. I got the invite after Simon Thornton’s won at St Omer and I’m just trying to play good golf.”
Like Larrazabal, Thornton had no blots on his card yesterday as a 70 lifted him into a share of 31st on four-under.