Flags were again limp at Royal Portrush on Saturday, but the Open Championship leaderboard was active, the gallery was into it, and the ball was scurrying along the ground. Much to the delight of the partisan crowd, Shane Lowry shot a brilliant 63, the round of the tournament so far by two strokes, and he will sleep (or not) on a sizable lead. Open Championship Leaderboard
Shane, come back!
The throngs at Portrush have embraced Irishman Shane Lowry. Every excellent shot—and there were many—brought rapturous cheers from the gallery. With steady putting and an array of heat-seeking approaches, Lowry separated himself from playing partner J. B. Holmes on the back nine, coming home in 30 and nearly easing in a medium-sized putt on the 18th hole for a 62. His 63 got him to -16 and put him four shots clear.
Anything could happen tomorrow, though. The forecast for Sunday warns of “strong winds and spells of heavy rain.” In an effort to dodge the nastier stuff in the afternoon and evening, the R&A has moved tee times earlier. Play will start at 2:32 AM ET, and the final group will tee off at 8:47 AM ET. Full release on the Open website
As long as the players can finish, the predicted winds of 15-20 mph in the afternoon, with gusts up to 35 mph, are great news. So far this week, Royal Portrush has held up well in spite of benign weather. Transcendent play, like Lowry’s today, has reaped its due reward. But if the wind blows, Harry Colt’s rolling green complexes will really come to life and expose the guys who don’t quite have control of their ball. Plus, Marty Sleeps has promised “the full monty” on Sunday. Setup-wise, that is. (H/t Alan Shipnuck)
Lowry has been a consistent performer internationally for much of his career, but he has had his struggles recently. Between 2016 and 2018, he didn’t win on the European Tour. Just at last year’s Open, in fact, he told the press, “I’m not enjoying my golf at the minute, and my golf is really not enjoying me, and that’s the way it is, and it’s hard to take.” Both parties appear to be enjoying each other immensely at the moment. (H/t Brendan Porath)
Joining Lowry in the final group tomorrow will be Tommy Fleetwood, who is four shots behind. J. B. Holmes, six back, will be in the group ahead of them. Lurking at -9, seven off the lead, are Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose, the only past major champions in the top five. At -8, we have two commonly cited best-never-to-have-won-the-big-one candidates, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler.
On a day of little wind and low scores, Westwood’s one-under 70 came as something of a disappointment. But Westy Island residents should take solace in the fact that right now their man is probably sipping a nice red and thinking to himself, “I literally don’t care.”
Kidding. Kidding! We’re certain (well, mostly certain) Xander Schauffele didn’t know he had a corked bat in his bag early in the week at the Open Championship. But the fact is, he got popped by the R&A’s random driver testing, struggled with a new head on Thursday, and finally dialed it in on Friday. He’s not happy about the ordeal.
Talking to the press after shooting 66 yesterday, Schauffele brought up the subject unprompted, saying he found it “a little bit unfair” that the R&A tested only 30 players rather than the whole field. “There’s still 130 other players in the field that potentially have a nonconforming driver as well,” he added. Shots fired!
Joel Beall of Golf Digest quickly picked up the scent. According to his report earlier today, “multiple sources” claim that “Schauffele was not the only player with a driver issue. At least two, and possibly three, equipment manufacturers other than Callaway had clubs deemed non-conforming.” Read Joel’s full article here.
Today, after his third round, Schauffele went even more scorched-earth. He implied that the R&A leaked news of his failed test: “They pissed me off because they attempted to ruin my image by not keeping this matter private.” He revealed that he had been called a “cheater”—jokingly, but still—by a fellow competitor. He named OEM names, saying he was “pretty sure” PXG and TaylorMade drivers got nabbed as well. Read Dylan Dethier’s report for Golf here.
Hoo boy. We’ve known for some time that the pros play clubs you can’t find in Golf Galaxy, but never has there been such a clear indication of how bifurcated the game actually is. Maybe Schauffele’s comments will change the way the governing bodies regulate equipment. Or maybe this kind of accountability will prove to be yet another good thing, like firm turf, that we come to expect only at the Open.
Brooksy displeased with Scotty – “I don’t think anyone in the field has hit it better than me,” a quietly seething Koepka said to Steve Sands after his 67. “I’ve just probably putted the worst.” I repeat, he shot 67! Even spotting Lowry seven strokes, Koepka has an outside chance tomorrow. Again, anything can happen when the weather arrives. If he manages to close the gap, he would own five of the past 11 major titles. Even if he moves up just one spot to third, he would become the first player in the modern era to record top threes in all four majors in a season. (H/t Justin Ray)
What a difference a few hours makes – When he wrapped up his stellar round of 65, Rickie Fowler was just two shots off the lead. But Shane Lowry proceeded to birdie six of his last ten holes and opened up an eight-shot lead over corporate America’s favorite major-less golfer. The expected strong winds—along with the forbearance of a potentially orange-averse Northern Irish crowd—could be Rickie’s only hope to claim a major in the 2010s.
Willett happen again? – No, probably not, but 2016 Masters champ Danny Willett had a heck of a round on Saturday. Battling from seven back, he shot a bogey-less 65. So continues a quiet career renaissance for Willett. After struggling desperately in the years after his surprise Masters win, the Englishman won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November, and has notched a couple of solid recent finishes: T-8 at the Canadian Open and T-12 at the U.S. Open.
Stanley unrepentant – An unusual taste of beef in our genteel little golfing world! On Friday, Kyle Stanley failed to shout “fore!” promptly as an errant drive of his bore down on the gallery. The ball ended up hitting the mother of playing partner Bob MacIntyre’s caddie. MacIntyre, a 22-year-old Scottish rookie, wasted no time getting in 11-year Tour veteran Stanley’s face. The conversation, um… didn’t go well, and Stanley defended himself to the media today. Basically, he thought others on the tee box did his due diligence for him. “He’s a young player,” Stanley said of MacIntyre. “I’ve been out here a while. So I don’t feel the need to be schooled on the Rules of Golf or what to do when you hit a shot off line.” Plea to our #LUP overlords: more of this, please.
Oh geez, I don’t know. We got bunched leaderboards at the Barbasol Championship and the Pinnacle Bank Championship Presented by Chevrolet. On the LPGA Tour, the team of Cydney Clanton and Jasmine Suwannapura ran away with the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational.
When a Northern Irish storm front rolls in, you don’t want to be caught with a bare egg. Protect yourself with a black aerator hat from The Fried Egg pro shop.