PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – With a bad weather forecast for Sunday in Royal Portrush, the day to make birdies in the sun was Saturday at the British Open.
The leaders took the hint in the third round, generating more roar than respectful silence as they navigated the green and undulating loop in relatively calm and benign circumstances.
No one received more support than Shane Lowry, a stocky and bearded Irishman whose father, Brendan, was a prominent Gaelic football player.
The son is a free golfer and at the age of 32 after a brilliant round of 63 on Saturday, Lowry now has the option of a lifelong: chance to win the first Open Championship on the island of Ireland since 1951
"It makes no sense to give up," he said after entering the third round with part of the lead. "I'm in a great position, but my God, we still have a long way to go."
Not that far anymore. He is now 16 under equal with a four-stroke lead over the Englishman Tommy Fleetwood. But Lowry still has to navigate a round under an important spot, even if the heavy rainfall in the forecast can make it hard to see someone clearly in Portrush with the cleared claret pitcher.
Lowry does not yet have a big championship to win, but he has been in this position before. In the 2016 United States Open at Oakmont Country Club, he also had a four-stroke lead in the final round, only to shoot a six-over-par 76 on Sunday.
He ended immediately for the second behind the winner, Dustin Johnson, who would have been the cause of a party under various circumstances.
This time, Lowry will leave the crowd behind as the only man from Ireland or Northern Ireland in battle. But he has some serious challengers: Fleetwood, one of the stars of Europe's # Ryder Cup victory last year in the United States, stands at 12 years. J. B. Holmes is at 10 below.
Brooks Koepka, ranked number 1 in the world, is at the end at nine o'clock after completing his round of 67 on Saturday with consecutive birdies. Koepka was the most consistent player in the majors this year: he tied for second place in the Masters, won the P.G.A. Championship and again finished second during the US Open.
But he is a long way – seven strokes – behind Lowry, just like the former US Open champion Justin Rose.
Holmes and Lowry started the third round immediately for the lead at eight o'clock below average. With their similar shapes, peaked hats and full beards, it was sometimes difficult to tell them apart.
The writer Rick Reilly joked that they were & # 39; the same man separated by an accent & # 39 ;.
But their golf fortunes varied on the back nine, while Lowry continued to find greens and hole links. He finished with eight birdies and no bogey, and set a course record on the newly reconstructed Royal Portrush links.
He came to make 62 shots in about an inch. His 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th stopped on the left side of the cup. But his walk to the 18th hole on Saturday was another moment to enjoy.
After Lowry shot his approach on the 18th green, he made the long walk in which the gallery gave him a serenade. He threw his cap off and looked left and right at the full stands.
This is the first Open Championship held at Royal Portrush since 1951; the largest golfing event on the island of Ireland since the Ryder Cup in 2006.
But Saturday could well have been calm before the storm, with rain and strong winds expected at 30 to 40 miles per hour on Sunday afternoon.
"You just have to get what you get," said Rickie Fowler, the eight-year-old American and English veteran Lee Westwood. "That's left wave. That's the Open. You can't help it. Throw the raincoats and have fun."
Open organizers set the start times on Sunday to prevent the worst weather, but the pressure will always be there for Lowry.