Sunday 15 December 2019

No rest for Lowry as he looks for positives in Major near-miss

Shane Lowry shows his frustration during his final round at Oakmont. Photo: Getty
Shane Lowry shows his frustration during his final round at Oakmont. Photo: Getty

Liam Kelly

Shane Lowry had no time for any deep reflection on the demise of his US Open challenge at Oakmont Country Club.

Shaken, defeated, disappointed and worn out by the raging heat on a day when he played 22 holes of high-intensity golf, Lowry departed for Dublin on Sunday night as soon as he carried out his media duties.

The 29-year-old from Clara, who gave the nation's sports fans a great run for their money through the weekend, was due at The Royal Dublin GC yesterday for an exclusive corporate day.

Lowry would have preferred time to put some distance from the tumult of emotions he experienced in losing a four-shot 54-hole lead and finishing joint second at Oakmont, but duty called.

The event included Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Danny Willett and Lowry. At least Lowry got to the finishing line. McIlroy miss the cut and Willett finished tied-37th.

Such are the vagaries of sport, that going into only his fourth US Open, the Offaly man would have been thrilled if he was told that he would finish tied for second place on one-under par.

Dustin Johnson with his partner Paulina Gretzky. Photo: Getty
Dustin Johnson with his partner Paulina Gretzky. Photo: Getty

That represents huge progress at a championship which traditionally is set up for a severe examination of all facets of a golfer's game and mentality.

The difference was that Lowry moved the dial into another realm by his Saturday performance and his expectations rose.

He had to wait until Friday to play his first round because thunderstorms caused delays. A 68 was a great start; 70 on Saturday morning's second round very acceptable; but Lowry entered a new realm of ease with his game on Saturday evening in the 14 holes he played before darkness descended.

He was at five-under par for the tournament, and had a 4.45am wake-up call for Sunday morning ahead of a 7.0am starting time to complete the final four holes of round three.

Two birdies meant he had recorded a round of 68 (69 after his controversial penalty), the best 54-hole score in the nine US Opens played at Oakmont since the first one in 1927.

At -7, he had a four-shot lead over joint second-placed Andrew Landry and Dustin Johnson.

He was back at base by around 8.45am, and between then and 1.30 when Lowry and his team, including dad Brendan, left their rented house to go to Oakmont, the tension inevitably began to rise.

He had breakfast, watched Tyrone v Cavan and Tipperary v Limerick on the GAA Go app, listened to some of the Offaly v Galway hurling match, and tried to rest.

"Those few hours were tough. I was quite restless, I tried to go for a kip and couldn't sleep," he said. "It wasn't ideal but that was the way it is.

"You're out at half-three on a Sunday in a Major, that's what it's going to be like, I remember it being the same in Chambers Bay last year."

The leader was paired with Landry, whose bid to win the first Major he had played in collapsed.

Temperatures soared, the greens ran fast, the dramas kept coming.

Johnson, playing in the group ahead of Lowry, had his now infamous Rules incident where the ball moved as he set himself to make a putt on the fifth green.

The official accepted Johnson's word that he had not caused the ball to move, but on the 12th the player was told it would be reviewed when he finished. Lowry and other contenders also heard the news.


"We were told about Dustin on 12. To be honest, I was just trying to make pars," he said.

"It was such a slog out there for me. I felt like I was hitting good shots and getting nothing out of them."

The shots slipped away. Seven bogeys, just one birdie, a 76 finish, and defeat by just three shots when Johnson's penalty was imposed left Lowry with conflicting emotions.

"It's not easy to get yourself in a position I was in this morning. When I got myself there, I didn't finish the job off, which is really disappointing," he said.

The positives were: "Tied second place at the US Open, my best ever finish in a Major. Good world ranking points this week, a good few Ryder Cup points."

Irish major magic

Shane Lowry came within three shots of becoming only the sixth Irish golfer to win a Major.

And having also figured in the mix at Chambers Bay last year, he has exposed himself to the white heat of challenging for one of golf's big four championships, the Offaly man will hope to use his Oakmont experience to make the breakthrough.

If he does he will join an illustrious club whose founding member was Fred Daly, winner of the British Open at Hoylake in 1947.

Half a century passed before the golden age of Irish golf began with Padraig Harrington's Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie in 2007. Withe barrier borken, Harrington captured a second Open in July 2008, and a few weeks later brought home the US PGA title.

Next up was Graeme McDowell in the US Open of 2010 - not only the first Irishman to win it, but the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Darren Clarke continued the good work, defying the wind and the odds to claim the Claret Jug at Royal St George's in 2011.

And then came Rory McIlroy's era - four Majors, and surely more to come.

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