Date: July 20, 2019
Author: Justin Falconer at Royal Portrush

Lowry leads, McIlroy flirts with miracle

There was little luck, only exquisite skill from the Irish on Friday at The Open as Shane Lowry snatched a share of the halfway lead and Rory McIlroy came devastatingly close to pulling off a miracle.

Six birdies in his first ten holes – including birdies on 1, 2 and 3 – set up a sensational 4-under 67 for Lowry that took him to 8-under with American JB Holmes (68) and set up a final group showdown between the pair tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, Englishmen Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood posted 67s of their own to rocket up the leaderboard just one stroke shy of the leading duo at 7-under.

But the day belonged to 32-year-old Lowry, the Irishman receiving some of the loudest roars on the first tee and he rode that momentum beautifully, only dropping shots on 14 and 18 to come back to the field.

"I think it was incredible right from the first hole. And even the crowd didn't seem that big around the third green, but the roar at the putt was unbelievable,” Lowry said.

“When I holed that putt on 10, that long one on 10, it was just incredible.

“You can't but smile, you can't but laugh how it is. There's no point trying to shy away from it. It's an incredible feeling. Like I said yesterday, it's an incredible feeling getting applauded on every green, every tee box.”

Australian Cam Smith is in a share of fifth with former US Open champion Justin Rose and Justin Harding, the South African notching a 65, the equal-lowest score of the day.

Americans Xander Schauffele and Kevin Streelman matched that number and will both have a tee time on Saturday, but the Friday 65 that had the crowd in raptures was recorded by homegrown hero Rory McIlroy.

After Thursday’s opening hole debacle McIlroy began the day at 8-over, needing a near-miracle to qualify for the weekend at The Open.

The 30-year-old took a while to get going but with birdies at three and seven, he suddenly had something to play for.

McIlroy rattled off three straight birdies after making the turn before trading strokes at 13 and 14 and with the cut line looking like 1-over, needed two more birdies in his final four holes.

After smoking a drive down 15 his wedge found a green side pot bunker, McIlroy nearly holing-out from there before dropping a 10-foot birdie bomb on the daunting par-3 16th.

He leaked his tee shot right on the almost driveable par-4 17th and had another ten feet for birdie but couldn’t convert.

And with thousands of local fans cheering his every move, McIlroy’s second shot into the final hole trickled off the playing surface, effectively ending his gallant charge.

McIlroy’s 65 saw him miss the cut by just one, a devastating result after yesterday’s opening quadruple-bogey and closing triple.

"Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played," an emotional McIlroy said after his round.

"To have that many people out there following me, supporting me, cheering my name, it meant the world to me."

Further up the standings, American major champions Jordan Spieth (67) and Brooks Koepka (69) are poised beautifully at 5-under for the tournament, alongside Andrew Putnam and last week’s PGA Tour winner Dylan Fratelli.

Tiger Woods (70) and Phil Mickelson (74) have both missed the cut in the same major championship for the first time in their career. This week was the 83rd major boasting both players in the same field.

The other big names to be on the next flight home include Australians Jason Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, as well as Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau, Hideki Matsuyama and Portrush resident Darren Clarke, who heart-breakingly triple-bogeyed his final hole.