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Lowry, Holmes climb out of golf’s depths

Ten years ago this May, Shane Lowry won the Irish Open as an amateur

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Ten years ago this May, Shane Lowry won the Irish Open as an amateur. Reminiscing during an anniversary celebration, Lowry declared that nothing – not even winning a major – would top the feeling of capturing his country’s title. He might get a chance to find out. Lowry shares the 36-hole lead at the 148th British Open with J.B. Holmes after posting a second straight 67 for a 36-hole total of 8-under 134 (scores).

“I’m right where I want to be,” said Lowry, who started his round Friday in the worst of the weather.

Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry, watching his tee shot on the 6th hole Friday at Royal Portrush, holds a share of the British Open lead.

While the fairytale story of Rory McIlroy hoisting the Claret Jug at the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush proved to be too good to be true – he missed the cut by one – Lowry, has taken up the cause for the Irish hopes of a winner on home soil. If not McIlroy, if not Graeme McDowell or Darren Clarke, the Northern Irish faithful have adopted Lowry, the pride of County Offaly across the border, as the next best thing. Lowry, who wears the Irish flag on his golf shoes and sports a shamrock, the symbol of his home country, on his golf ball, says he isn’t one to be sentimental. When asked to describe what it means to have the Open on this island, he cracked, “The nicest thing about it was, I didn't have to go to the airport.”

But don’t let Lowry fool you. He was shaking on the first tee Thursday.

“You ought to have seen my legs on the first tee yesterday morning,” said Lowry, who struck a 3-iron down the middle, found his rhythm, and recorded his lowest opening round in a major.

Lowry credits a 40-minute pep talk over coffee at the Bushmills Inn with coach Neil Manchip for boosting his confidence on the eve of the championship. Buoyed by an adoring crowd, Lowry got off to a blazing start on Friday with birdies on his first three holes and six of his first 10, becoming the first player to reach double figures under par. However, a three-putt bogey at No. 14 and another dropped shot at the 18th slowed his assault of par.

The 32-year-old Lowry has missed four consecutive Open cuts since he tied for ninth in 2014. A year ago, before departing Carnoustie, Lowry decided that it was time for change and parted ways with Dermot Byrne, his caddie of nine years.

“I was very down about how things were,” Lowry said. “I was very down about my game. And, yeah, I wasn't in a great place mentally, I suppose.”

And now?

“I'm in a totally different place now,” he said. “Look, it's chalk and cheese, really.”

Lowry is a feel player, and he has come to accept that his career is going to be filled with highs and lows. He called the first 10 years of his career a “roller coaster.”

“I feel like I know how to take the downs,” he said. “I feel like the roller-coaster ride is going to be there.”

Holmes, who posted a 3-under 68 in the morning, can relate. Since winning the Genesis Open in February, he lost his game in the past two months. Holmes withdrew after a first-round 80 in Charlotte, then missed five cuts in a row before finally breaking the streak two weeks ago with a T-21 in Detroit.

“Four weeks ago, I thought my career was over,” Holmes said. “Or felt like it.”

The roller coaster began climbing again for Lowry, who won the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi event to start the year. He has had three top-10 finishes in his past five worldwide starts, including a T-2 at the RBC Canadian Open in June. Count Graeme McDowell among those who think that Lowry has the game to be a major champion.

“I've always thought Shane had kind of three big things going for him,” McDowell said. “He's a great driver of the ball; one of the best chippers of the ball I've ever seen; and he's got a lot of guts and determination.”

McIlroy said he’ll be watching and rooting for Lowry this weekend.

“He’s the homeboy up there now,” McIlroy said. “He’ll get the support I got now, and I’d like nothing more than to see him win an Open.”

Lowry has been in a position like this once before at a major. He held a four-stroke lead heading into the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but stumbled to a 6-over 76. The round included a back nine in which he didn’t know where he stood in the trophy hunt because of a potential penalty situation with Dustin Johnson. Lowry came unglued and finished T-2.

“I feel like if I get the opportunity this week, I'll be better,” he said.

Lowry has lived in the shadow of McIlroy and his major glory, but he also shown a flair for the dramatic. Lowry shot a 62 as an amateur and led from the second round onward to win the 2009 Irish Open on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff over Robert Rock. Colin Dalgleish, a former Walker Cup captain, described it as “fairytale stuff.”

So why not again? Lowry was asked.

“I'm obviously going to be thinking about it tonight,” he said. “There's no point in shying away from it. I'm in a great position. But, my goodness, have we got a long way to go.”

All of the Emerald Isle will be pulling for him to achieve another fairytale win at home.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak