Shane Lowry cruises to an opening 67 at British Open

Offaly native lights up Portrush after Darren Clarke got things underway at 6.35am

Shane Lowry on the fifth hole during the first round of the British Open at Portrush. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Shane Lowry on the fifth hole during the first round of the British Open at Portrush. Photo: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Shane Lowry played beautifully for an opening round, 67 a score that could have been two or three shots better had he even enjoyed a modicum of good fortune down the stretch. He won’t quibble though with an early share of the lead of the British Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

He almost chipped in from Locke’s Hollow to the right of the 16th green and then on 17 left his birdie putt half a roll short, the second time in as many holes. Even on the 18th, his approach looked good in the air but caught the top of a greenside bunker and rolled back into the sand trap. His short game prowess made light work of getting up-and-down.

The Offaly native and a former North of Ireland champion over the Dunluce Links, birdied the third fifth and ninth to turn in 33 shots. He then negotiated the next three holes in one under with a brace of birdies and a bogey and on the 15th was unlucky not to join American Webb Simpson in a share of the lead.

Lowry’s general ball-striking guaranteed that his progress was rather serene compared to many of his rivals in a freshening breeze and periodic squalls of rain.

Darren Clarke, who had the honour of striking the first tee shot in the 148th British Open at 6.35am, admitted that he was a little emotional on the first tee. “Just as I was about to hit my tee shot I thought, ‘wow, it’s the Open Championship and we’re back here at Portrush’. It was amazing. I managed to hit a nice soft cut down there too so it was good.”

A 3.10am alarm call and a bacon sandwich fortified him for what lay ahead. The raucous cheering that greeted his arrival on the tee and lingered through his opening drive had barely died down by the time a 12-foot birdie putt dropped on the first green; at that point he led the tournament and further increased that standing with birdies on the third and fifth.

A flawed decision on the seventh led to a bogey. “I hit a beautiful drive and then I tried to trap down a four iron for my second shot and chase it up there, just got ahead of it and hit it that bit right into a bush.

“It could have finished anywhere else apart from there and I had to take a penalty drop. That was one of the stupid ones. I should have played the easy shot and let the wind move it right but I didn’t and paid the penalty for doing that.

“The first six holes I was enjoying it, playing with a little bit of freedom and then after that bogey I got a little bit defensive almost. I was trying to not make mistakes as opposed to playing a little bit better. Then I’d have spells where I’d hit a couple of lovely shots and then do some stupid things and make bogeys. I guess that comes with being 50 really.”

Clarke putts for birdie on the first. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Clarke putts for birdie on the first. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Two under through 16 holes, Clarke three putted from Locke’s Hollow on the 16th and then lost another shot on 17, errors that rankled a little bit. “It was tricky out there. We probably got the best of the day and it was tricky. It was hard to score. Portrush in this sort of breeze is a challenge. That’s what it is. It’s fair but tough too.” When the dust settles a level par 71 will suffice.

He continued: “Walking up 18 there with everyone shouting and roaring, the last time I did that was 2011 on the 72nd hole. It was fabulous. It’s obviously not just for me. It is Rory (McIlroy) and G-Mac (Graeme McDowell) and all that sort of stuff. To see how much support we have had, to see all the people coming here, to see how much they have put their arms around it as well is just fabulous.”

Clarke was generous in his praise for the British Amateur champion, Mallow’s James Sugrue (71), who played alongside him as did American Charley Hoffman (70).

Sugrue was a former member of the Darren Clarke Foundation programme for young golfers, something that the Dungannon man reminded his young protégé at one point on the front nine when pointing to a scoreboard; at one stage their shared the lead on two under. It didn’t last but they’ll both remember the moment.

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