Shane Lowry may not have been the local hero everyone was talking about leading up to the Open Championship, but after a fourth scintillating round earned him a six-shot win and a first ever Major, the Irishman’s was the only name on people’s lips at Royal Portrush on Sunday evening.
And not just on the lips; also echoing around the grandstands and roaring from the throats of tens of thousands who cheered the self-effacing 32-year-old from County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland on to the biggest victory of his career.
Lowry described the support as “something I’ve never seen on a golf course”. It is hard to imagine the cheers could have been any louder had it been Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke or Graeme McDowell hoisying the Claret Jug instead.
Calmness personified despite the memories of a previous collapse when leading a Major, Lowry only briefly let his four-shot overnight advantage slip to three, after a bogey at the first.
By the seventh, he had extended his lead over Tommy Fleetwood to six shots, as other challengers sank in increasingly treacherous conditions and rendered it a two-horse race.
Fleetwood paid dearly for missed putts on the front nine and as the weather worsened his bid faltered further while Lowry, a former winner of the North of Ireland amateur championship on these links, looked more and more at home.
In a measure of the conditions, Lowry’s one-over-par 72 to finish 15 under was the second lowest round of any player in the last 10 groups, after American Tony Finau’s 71 for third place.
Fleetwood’s consolation for a closing 74 was outright second, his best Major finish. Fellow Englishman Lee Westwood shared fourth with world No1 Brooks Koepka.
Lowry’s triumph is not only a feel-good story, it is also that other treasured sporting tale, the unlikely comeback.
His chances of joining the ranks of the Major winners looked to have passed when he saw a four-shot lead evaporate on the final day of the 2016 US Open.
That sense only calcified in the months and years that followed as Lowry slipped outside the world’s top 50 and endured a drought that would not end until January this year.
He missed the cut at The Open last year for a fourth time in succession, contributing to his selection of a new caddie. His choice of Northern Irishman Bo Martin now looks to have been an inspired one.
Only at the 15th hole, where he bowed and pumped his fist in celebration of a birdie that restored his six-shot lead, did Lowry hint at the cocktail of emotions coursing through his stocky frame.
“Honestly I feel like I’m in an out-of-body experience. I was so calm coming down the 18th, I just couldn’t believe it,” he told Sky Sports afterwards.
Lowry was quick to put that down to his caddie. “I talked to Bo a lot today. ‘I can’t stop thinking about winning, about holding the Claret Jug.’ He just said ‘stay with me, stay with me’.”
This was huge for Portrush, for the whole country, too. The first Open at this fine course for 68 years was a landslide success – organisers the R&A reported total attendance of 237,000 – and the biggest sporting event ever to take place in Northern Ireland.
Now restored to the roster of Open venues, golf’s oldest Major will be back, perhaps in 2028 or 2029.
After his own spell on the fringes, Lowry already is. And all concerned with the tournament could hardly have wished for a better outcome.