The return of major championship golf was a major success, at least as Ireland was concerned: one of their own has won The Open Championship.
Shane Lowry came into the final round at Royal Portrush, the first time back to Northern Ireland in 68 years, with a four stroke lead.
The 32-year-old Irishman only needed to defend it in tough Sunday conditions. He did more than that.
In a vacuum, his 1-over 72 does not look terribly impressive, but with context: it was very good. Awful conditions forced the R&A to push tee times up an hour, which is unheard of at an Open. Some of the fortunate early risers posted low scores and made a lot of money, but for those at or near the top of the leaderboard, it was a prodigious struggle.
Of the final 28 players out on Sunday, ZERO shot under par, and only one of them shot a round better than Lowry’s 72. The five players behind Lowry on the leaderboard to start the day shot a combined +33 (nearly half of that was one player, but more on that later).
And most important of all? That 72 was good enough to finish off one of the biggest romps in recent major championship history: a six-stroke victory.
There was absolutely no drama going down the stretch. Lowry was engaging the jubilant crowd, pumping his fists, pointing enthusiastically into the masses, giving thumbs-ups… heck, his name had already been engraved into the Claret Jug when he stood on the 18th tee box.
He was an overwhelmingly worthy champion.
His win was not a foregone conclusion to start the day, though, although it sort of felt like it after he sunk the last putt of his brilliant 8-under 63 on Saturday.
Lowry had to sleep with the memories of the LAST time he held the 54-hole lead at a major. It was at the 2016 US Open, where he shot a final-round 76 and lost by three strokes to Dustin Johnson. He also bogeyed the first hole at Royal Portrush on Sunday to see his lead drop to three over eventual runner-up Tommy Fleetwood.
However, three strokes was the closest anyone would get the entire day. In the blustery conditions, characteristic of the region, hardly anyone was able to pull ahead of Fleetwood as the top chaser. Not even world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, a major championship fixture who had won on the biggest stage in four of the last ten majors, and had not finished outside of the top 2 in any of the first three majors of the 2019 season.
Koepka shockingly started bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey and that was basically the end of his Open run.
When Lowry bogeyed three holes in a four-hole stretch in the middle of the round, he suddenly gave the 28-year-old Englishman some life, as his deficit was against just three with six holes to play, but a mind-bogglingly poor decision out of a fairway bunker on the 14th hole led to a double-bogey, and essentially ended the tournament.
Lowry added a birdie on No. 15 to increase his lead to six, and three closing pars kept the advantage there, more than enough to secure his first major championship.
While Royal Portrush is in Northern Ireland (UK), and Lowry hails from the South – the Republic of Ireland, when it comes to golf, the two operate as one Ireland.
A win from a Northern Ireland native like Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, or Graeme McDowell (McIroy and Clarke missed the cut, McDowell was T57) might have been marginally more emotional, but nothing else was going to make the raucous crowd happier than to see the son of Ireland lift the Claret Jug.
The 2019 major championship season has now come to a close, and Shane Lowry is the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Shane Lowry -15 (+1)
2. Tommy Fleetwood -9 (+3)
3. Tony Finau -7 (E)
4. Lee Westwood -6 (+2)
4. Brooks Koepka -6 (+3)
6. Robert Macintyre -5 (-3)
6. Tyrrell Hatton -5 (-2)
6. Danny Willett -5 (+2)
6. Rickie Fowler -5 (+3)
10. Patrick Reed -4 (E)
11. Justin Thomas -3
11. Francesco Molinari -3
11. Jon Rahm -3
20. Louis Oosthuizen -1
20. Henrik Stenson -1
20. Jordan Spieth -1
20. Justin Rose -1
30. Webb Simpson E
30. Kevin Kisner E
32. Dylan Frittelli +1
32. Ernie Els +1
41. Xander Schauffele +2
41. Matt Kuchar +2
41. Patrick Cantlay +2
51. Dustin Johnson +3
51. Bubba Watson +3
57. Paul Casey +4
57. Graeme McDowell +4
63. Jim Furyk +5
67. J.B. Holmes +6
67. Sergio Garcia +6
71. Eddie Pepperell +8
How Shane Lowry Won The Open Championship
By opening the tournament with back-to-back 67s, and then obliterating the Saturday field with that 8-under 63, Lowry put himself in position to where he would need a spectacular collapse to not win the Claret Jug.
He did bogey five holes on Sunday, but also had four birdies. The three birdies he carded in a four-hole stretch, from Nos. 4-7, to briefly reach 18-under, may have emotionally knocked out a number of possible contenders.
By the time he started to leak oil, he was basically in match-play mode against Fleetwood, who was struggling himself.
Lowry had been in the midst of a streaky 2019 season. He won the season opening Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on the European Tour to snap a four-year professional victory drought, but then went on a cold streak, which ended with a missed cut at The Masters, which he followed up with a T3-T8-T2 run, all on American soil, before a modest drop in his results coming into the week.
Most recently, he had finished T34 at last week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
For the week, Lowry was tremendous tee-to-green. He hit just short of 80% of his greens in regulation for the week, well above the course average, and he led the field in birdies, strokes gained tee-to-green, strokes gained: off-the-tee, and strokes gained: approach-the-green.
Driving: 320.0 yards (53rd)
Fairways: 35/56, 62.5% (44th)
Greens: 57/72, 79.17% (1st)
Putts: 1.62 (43rd)
Par-3: -4 (4 Birdies, 12 Pars)
Par-4: -7 (15 Birdies, 21 Pars, 8 Bogeys)
Par-5: -4 (4 Birdies, 8 Pars)
Total: -15 (23 Birdies, 41 Pars, 8 Bogeys)
What It Means For Lowry
The victory was the fifth of Lowry’s career, the first of which, coincidentally, happened as an amateur at the 2009 Irish Open.
Before his season-opening win in Abu Dhabi, Lowry had not won since taking his only title on American soil, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational four years ago.
At world No. 33, and very well-regarded, Lowry was unlikely to need help getting into a major any time soon. Now his presence in everything in the near future is a lock.
As for The Open, he can miss the cut in his next 26 attempts and would still qualify for the next, because he is exempt until age 60. He gets a 10-year exemption on the European Tour and a five-year exemption on the PGA. He qualifies also qualifies for the next five Masters, U.S. Opens, PGA Championships, and PLAYERS Championships.
Bottomline, he will be very visible for a long time.
He also moves up to a career-high of 17th in the Official World Golf Rankings, the first time he has been inside the top 30.
Also, with the new schedule changes making The Open the final major of the season, Lowry will spend the most amount of time as the last major winner that has been seen in a long, long time. The next major is not set to tee off for another nine months, with The Masters in April.
Lowry’s 2019 Season
Missed Cuts: 5
Wins: 1 (Open Championship)
Addtl Top 10s: 3
Money Earned: $3,444,879 (16th)
FedExCup Pts: 1,137 (18th)
World Rank Before/After: 33/17
Missed Cuts: 1
Wins: 2 (Abu Dhabi, Open Championship)
Addtl Top 10s: 1
King Koepka’s Major Season
Well, the 2019 major championship season is over, and Brooks Koepka “only” won one major, the PGA Championship. Still, the 29-year-old, who excels at majors more than anyone since peak Tiger Woods, finished a championship season he should be proud of. In addition to his PGA win, he was also T2 at The Masters, solo-second at the U.S. Open, and despite a difficult Sunday at Royal Portrush, he finished T4 at The Open.
He joins Tiger, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler as the only golfers in history to finish in the top 5 of all four majors in a calendar year.
As for his Sunday at The Open, Koepka had a prayer, starting the day six strokes back in a tie for fourth, with the only two players ahead of him being ones who had never won a major. He got to play in the penultimate pairing, but he did not exactly get the luck of the draw.
One of the fastest players on Tour, Koepka’s Sunday playing partner was J.B. Holmes, who has become a Tour punchline for slow play. Again, Holmes took his time, but Koepka had to watch him take his time on eighty-seven shots!
Koepka was visibly agitated with Holmes during round, most notably when walking off the 12th green, as he stared down a rules official and pointed to his imaginary wristwatch. Koepka also had some choice words about Holmes’ play after the round, criticizing Holmes for “not doing anything when it isn’t his turn”.
Still, Koepka needed to make his own shots, and largely failed at that. He opened with four straight bogeys, and while he did eagle the par-2 fifth, he only carded one more under-par hole for the day, finishing with a 3-over 74.
For the second straight Open Championship, Francesco Molinari dazzled the Sunday crowd with an impressive bogey-free 18. However, the stakes were a little different last time, as his round last year, while paired with Tiger, won him the Open title.
This year, he began the final round at 5-over par, and outside the top 50. His 5-under 66 though, was the lowest round in the field, and jumped him 43 spots up the final leaderboard, into a tie for 11th place.
Molinari did not add major championship No. 2 this year, but he did manage a finish inside the top 16 in three out of the four, including a T5 at The Masters.
Also benefiting greatly from an earlier tee time was Tyrrell Hatton, who shot a 2-under 69 to move 17 spots up the final leaderboard and finish T6 for the week.
Needing one stroke fewer than Hatton and finishing in the same position was Robert MacIntyre of Scotland. The T6 was especially impressive for the 22-year-old MacIntyre, who was playing in his first major championship.
Among those playing later, only Tony Finau shot a round better than Lowry’s 72. With two birdies and two bogeys, the man who played in the final Sunday threesome at The Masters this year shot an even-par 71 to finish solo-third.
Finau has had an up-and-down season, but this was the fifth time he has finished in the top 10 of a major in the past two seasons.
There are poor Sunday rounds, and then there is what happened to J.B. Holmes.
The 18-hole tournament leader was in the final Saturday pairing, and the penultimate Sunday pairing, hoping to capture his first career major championship.
Holmes was so bad that he started the day in third place and did not even finish in the top 65.
Sergio Garcia started the day nine strokes back of Holmes, failed to card a single birdie in a 7-over 78, and he still caught him somehow, with the duo leaving Royal Portrush with the modest check that comes with a T67.
Holmes had six bogeys, four doubles, and one triple on his way to a 16-over 87, the worst round of the day by seven strokes.
For the second straight major, Justin Rose had a disastrous Sunday. He was not quite in contention to the level he was at last month’s U.S. Open, where he played in the final Sunday pairing, but at 9-under through 3 rounds and in fourth place, he was not out of it either. However, he could not get anything going, and with just one birdie, he shot an 8-over 79 to tumble into a tie for 20th.
Jordan Spieth matched Rose’s lone birdie for the day, which was one more than he had on Sunday a year ago when he squandered the 54-hole co-lead in the defense of his 2017 Open title.
Spieth posted a 6-over 77 to finish T20, putting a telling finish to a season that has been defined by troubles closing. The 11-time Tour winner with 3 major titles to his name has now gone more than two years without a victory on Tour.
“I can’t believe this is mine. It’s just incredible. I’ve watched Opens since I was a little kid. To be named Champion Golfer of the Year… it’s just incredible.”
– Shane Lowry