PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — It was a cute story on Day 1, Irishman Shane Lowry leading the Open Championship at Royal Portrush Golf Club, a few hours from where he grew up across the border of Ireland to the south. But it came with a few nerves too, says the 32-year-old, who when he teed it up in the opening round he was visibly shaking.
“After I hit the ball, I said to my caddie, 'I've never been that nervous about a tee shot,' ” he said Friday. “I don't know why. I just was.”
If he thinks he was nervous on Thursday, wait until he gets to the first tee in the final pairing on Saturday. You see, it’s about to get real for Lowry after a second-straight 67 gave him a share of the 36-hole lead with J.B. Holmes heading into the weekend, and the weight of an entire nation comes to rest on his broad back.
“You start thinking about it when people start asking you about it,” Lowry said. “I'm obviously going to be thinking about it tonight. There's no point in shying away from it. I'm in a great position. But, my God, have we got a long way to go. There's two rounds of golf on this golf course against the best field in the world.”
Lowry isn’t new to this position. At the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he shot third-round 65 to take a four-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson and Andrew Landry heading into Sunday. After 12 holes, he trailed Johnson by one but made three straight bogeys on Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to end that dream. He finished in a tie for second after shooting 76.
It took awhile for Lowry to get over that one, but it was also three years ago. He won earlier this year on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi, where he led by three after three rounds but was two over through his first 11 holes and four back at one point only to rally with three birdies over his final seven holes to win by one.
After the nervous opening tee shot on Thursday, Lowry settled in, making five birdies and just one bogey. He was even better Friday, at least through his first nine holes, going out in 31 before bogeys on 14 and 18 dropped him into a tie for the lead.
Still, there were moments of poise, like on the 17th tee, where he could hear TV commentary from a tent 80 yards away in his backswing telling him he had 295 yards to the top of the hill. He stopped himself, backed off and went on to make par.
“I got into a great rhythm the last couple of days,” Lowry said. “Especially to start a round today.”
It has been a nice story for the first two days. Now it’s about to get real.