The final men’s major of 2019 is set for Royal Portrush. We have a stout leaderboard with a mix of styles and countries represented. Conditions have been relatively benign at this Open, where a new 54-hole scoring record was set on Saturday night. That’s expected to change for the final round. Here are 3 quick things to have you ready for Sunday’s final round:
1. Shane Lowry is at home, in control, and the favorite
Take a moment to breathe and appreciate what we saw on Saturday, because there have been few major rounds ever that have been as perfect, historic, memorable, and dominant as the Irishman’s third-round tour of the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush.
If you started the day assuming Lowry might stumble, you probably weren’t alone. Lowry’s had major experience (more on that in a minute) and a nice year, but with a stacked leaderboard of stars around him, it’s completely reasonable to think the guy outside the top-30 in the world with just a single win in the last four seasons might not stick. After all, we’re just one year removed from the guy basically hating golf and cutting ties with his caddy at this very event.
And then came Saturday. A flawless, perfect-game 63 that featured eight birdies and no bogeys on a course where there’s plenty of places to get caught up. The entire afternoon was golf at its best, flawless shot after flawless shot — the type of A-1 stuff The Open’s been a consistent venue for over the last few years, from Frankie Molinari, to Branden Grace, to Henrik Stenson.
There’s no question Lowry will have a rowdy, massive fully-throated crowd behind him tomorrow. Home is this island. Hell, listen to this. This is more ‘home football game’ than golf tournament — and it absolutely rules.
I can’t even begin to describe how mad the fans are going out there. It’s a good 20mins since Lowry finished and they’ve not stopped singing. Amazing atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/BkEkIOtleQ
— Michael McEwan (@MMcEwanbunkered) July 20, 2019
That’s an adaptation of Hey Baby, at a golf tournament, for an essentially homestanding player that just shot 63. Sometimes golf is cool.
But tomorrow’s still the test. How much has he mentally repaired himself from the four-shot U.S. Open lead at Oakmont a couple years back? Will the massive support and attention he’s going to get tomorrow comfort him — or shake him? Or will all the good vibes he’s gotten from this place over the years, including at the 2009 Irish Open where he won as an amateur, power him to a Claret Jug?
The way Lowry goes tomorrow, the tournament goes. If he backs up, the door will be open for top names — Brooks, Rickie, Justin Rose, and more. If not, well, this thing will be over quick. Place a big order of Guinness just in case, Portrush.
2. Millennials are ruining The Open.
The R&A has gone soft! One defining element of the oldest major championship in golf is the weather. It blows and rains sideways for at least a portion of almost every British Open, and they play through it as they have since the 19th century. Tee times were adjusted in 2014 at Royal Liverpool but that’s only because the storms forecasted were of the rare severe kind with lightning. What’s coming late on Sunday at Portrush is supposed to carry heavy winds and a bit of rain. The gusts are expected to hit 35 mph with sustained winds blowing about 20 mph.
That’s classic links weather, the kind every advertisement and vignette for the Open touts. But the R&A apparently thinks it will be too severe, opting to move tee times up an hour as a precaution.
A separate underlying concern here is that the balls may not stay put on the greens if it blows too hard. That gets us down a totally different rabbit hole of the ball flying too far forcing these tournaments to speed up greens as some sort of defense against absurdly low scores, which then in turn makes the greens unplayable if the wind blows too fast. We went into this in much greater detail when play at St. Andrews in 2015 was stopped for a full day because the balls would not stay still on greens that were faster than the seaside course had originally been designed for.
An hour in advance is not too drastic a schedule change like the Masters moving everything up half a day to avoid Georgia thunderstorms this April. It will give the Open some extra cushion but the reason given still runs counter to everything we understand the Open to be.
3. Beware Brooksy
No one may be able to come close to the blistering Shane Lowry, but the best bet for a chaser going low in the Sunday conditions is Brooks Koepka. The margin will be significant thanks to Lowry’s Saturday round, but Koepka is just a hot putter away from making it interesting.
Koepka’s incredible run of sub-70 rounds at the majors continued on Saturday in a round where he made absolutely nothing on the greens. Koepka guessed he hadn’t made more than one or two putts outside four feet. His tee-to-green game is as good as ever so this failure to have it translate to a good score has had the deadpan Koepka visibly pissed off on multiple occasions up on the greens.
If you’re looking for a chasing option, it’s Koepka. That may sound obvious given his recent form at majors and the little fact that he’s the No. 1 player in the world. But the fundamental signs are all there at this specific tournament. He’s made only four bogeys in three rounds, so he’s as dialed in as ever. There’s just nothing going in with the putter and that’s the club that can be the most fickle from round to round.
As for everything outside the putter, Koepka declared after his third round that “No one in the field has hit it better than me.” For a chaser, he’s also got the forecast he needed — one that can vaporize players ahead of him who may not be hitting it as sharp as he has this week. He’s viewing the tougher weather conditions as an advantage because of the way he’s hitting it and now coming from the chasing position. Beyond the natural talent and his No. 1 ranking, the signs are all there and set up for a Brooks chasedown to juice this Sunday at the Open up even more.
Here’s your leaderboard at the 54-hole mark: