Lying in wait should the top two falter were JB Holmes, on 10 under, and world number one Brooks Koepka, victor in four of his last nine majors, and former US Open champion Justin Rose a shot further adrift. In the last 20 years, only four players have lost a 54-hole lead of four shots or more.
The pressure of the final round of a major championship can do amusing things to a player's mind. On a Royal Portrush golf course where you need to be able to work the ball both directions to combat the doglegs and the changing wind directions, he found himself only able to hit one shot, left-to-right and not very solid.
Little wonder Koepka couldn't wait to get out of the interview area Saturday at the British Open. You know, just in case. I just want to hear that roar again.
He had a two-shot lead on Holmes but gave them back on the last few holes after steaming to the turn in 31, but he would have accepted his final position at any point.
Shane Lowry of Ireland and J.B. Holmes were tied for the lead at 8-under 134, one shot ahead of Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood. (Andy Buchanan/AFP) Justin Thomas plays a shot on the second hole during the final round. Because I think it is appropriate that I'm there, on behalf of everybody on the whole island of Ireland I should say well done. "It's pretty special. Something I'll never forget". And if Koepka can somehow find his touch on the greens, well, all bets are off. I've hit it as good as I can possibly imagine. "But that's it, I'm just happy with how I played". "I putted the worst in the entire field", said the world number one. "It's been really bad".
Not even an ice-cold putter can hold Brooks Koepka down. 'And just full of gratitude towards every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on. "That was a stressful round of golf".
If the Irishman was filled with nerves starting the day with a four-shot lead, it was not obvious early on apart from the iron shot that launched his round on the par-four first at Royal Portrush which he pulled into the rough. (Ian Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports) more Shane Lowry walks on the course on the fifth hole during the final round. "So I'm going to have to make those adaptations", Woods said.
Lowry is coming off the best day of his career when he shot 8-under 63 before a raucous gallery at Royal Portrush.
"The greens are flawless and we're playing links golf in no wind".
"He's Irish", Justin Rose said. Another ideal day would make things easier for him.
But with top five finishes born from Sunday charges at the US Open (2015) and The Masters (2018) on his CV already, Smith will be fully committed to a strong finish to his 2019 major season tomorrow. That by itself counts for something, and there is no more confident ball striker in Northern Ireland than Koepka. "So it's taken me three years to get back here", Lowry said, making to attempt to downplay the magnitude of the occasion.
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