Vincent Hogan: 'The ghosts of Oakmont fell silent as Shane Lowry assaulted Portrush with a birdie blitz'
The ghosts of Oakmont were silent as a six-birdie blitz in the opening ten holes catapulted Shane Lowry to the top of The Open leaderboard today.
Lowry, his heart broken by the final day loss of a four-shot lead at the 2016 US Open, fired a second consecutive 67 to share the lead with JB Holmes.
Lowry quickly showed nerves would not be an issue with a stunning start of birdie, birdie, birdie, sinking putts of six feet, three feet and five feet to surge straight onto the heels of overnight leader, JB Holmes.
His approach play was sublime, the Offaly man looking relaxed and focused in all-black gear and trademark white shoes with tricolor stamped on the heel. Playing alongside Brandon Grace and an out-of-sorts Phil Mickelson, Lowry was clearly in the zone, playing quickly and with an easy rhythm.
The intensity of his play was in stark contrast to Mickelson's, the American taking an ugly double-bogey on two after twice seeing chips from a valley short left of the green roll back down to his feet.
Another Lowry birdie followed on five, his drive on the 374-yard par four coming to rest on a mound just left of the green. Stitching a gorgeous lob-wedge dead, he moved to eight under and the yellow boards around the course confirmed joint-leadership of The Open.
Pars followed on six and seven before an astonishing long iron in to eight brought birdie number five for Lowry and a place as outright leader.
That lead stretched to two on the tenth, Lowry nailing a twenty-footer for birdie that tossed great, bawdy roars across the thronged Dunluce links.
By now, the rain was coming down but a huge gallery was building around the man whose career momentarily lost momentum after forsaking that four-shot lead at Oakmont.
It took Lowry maybe a year to rinse that disappointment out of the system, but a win earning him more than $1m in Abu Dhabi last January confirmed his return to the business end of the professional game.
That achievement has, palpably, taken real weight off the shoulders of a man determined to be a part of Padraig Harrington's European team to contest next year's Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
With conditions deteriorating on the Causeway coastline now, Lowry was very much the hunted. He made pars on eleven and twelve, just pushed a good birdie chance from fifteen feet right of the hole on thirteen, before dropping his first shot of the day on a fourteenth proving really challenging into the wind.
Lowry reached the elevated green, but three-putted from 60-feet for bogey, a score matched by both Grace and Mickeslon.
Attacking the pin on fifteen, his 129 yard approach rolled into a back bunker, positioned wickedly almost directly behind the flag. But Lowry's nerve held, splashing out beautifully to a foot for a saved par.
And good par rescues followed on sixteen and seventeen, the latter after his drive sailed into the gallery down the right and required a free drop because of a barrier being in the way.
A heavy second to eighteen left him needing an up and down to save par and, though his delightful pitch almost hit the flag, Lowry missed an eight-footer back for only his second bogey of the day.
Mallow amateur, James Sugrue, looked to have made the weekend right on the two-over cut-line, shooting a second round 73 distinguished by a composed par, par, par, par finish after what threatened to be a ruinous triple-bogey on fourteen.
But Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke just failed to make the weekend, an ugly triple on eighteen meaning that Clarke missed out by one shot after a second round 74. And Harrington's 70 was one shot more than he needed after Thursday's opening 75.