Shane Lowry described Saturday's stunning round at an electric Royal Portrush as his "most incredible day" on a golf course as the Irishman took control of the Open Championship.

Lowry's blemish-free 63 means he almost has one hand on the Claret Jug, boasting a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood at the summit.

The crowd in Northern Ireland lent their significant backing to the 32-year-old as he pulled clear of a stacked field of contenders to emerge as the clear favourite for the title.

He closed his round with three birdies from the last four holes and Portrush erupted in joy as he left playing partner and overnight co-leader J.B. Holmes six strokes adrift.

"Honestly, that's the most incredible day I've ever had on the golf course. I honestly can't explain what it was like," said a beaming Lowry.

"I said to Bo [caddie Brian Martin] walking off the 17th tee, 'We might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let's enjoy this next half hour'.

"And that's what I did. The crowd was incredible. I just can't believe what it was like.

"I can imagine it was quite difficult for J.B. to play with that. But I found it OK, anyway."

Lowry has never won a major but he does have experience of holding a four-shot lead going into the last round of one.

He did so at Oakmont in 2016 and shot a 76 on the final day as victory slipped from his grasp, but he claims to have learned from that.

"I said to Bo when I finished, look at the leaderboard, four ahead. I said to Bo, 'At least I won't have to answer any questions about Oakmont, I'm four ahead going into the final round of a major'," Lowry joked.

"Obviously I learned a lot that day. I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont. I'm going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow [Sunday].

"I think I learned a few things that day about playing in the final round of a major with a lead, that you need to just hang in until the very last minute.

"You never know what can happen."

There was little time to stop and take stock on a glorious day at Royal Portrush as The Open Championship cranked up a notch in round three.

Bright skies and low winds were the order of the day in Northern Ireland, a stark contrast to the heavy rain that is forecast to provide a huge challenge for the leaders on Sunday.

On a moving day when Shane Lowry took Portrush apart to establish a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood, our Omnisport team were out and about on the ground once again.

Here, we bring you stories you may have missed from Portrush.


COVERING THE OPEN IS A GIANT TASK

An Open Championship is an absolute privilege to cover for a journalist, but it's also hard work!

The days start early, finish late and are filled with any number of tasks from writing stories, interviewing, shooting video, talking on the radio and television...

If you're struggling to feel any sympathy for the lot of the many journalists at Royal Portrush this week, the revelation that one of Omnisport's reporters found time for a spot of sightseeing will certainly not change your mind.

Early on Saturday, said reporter headed for the Giant's Causeway to take in the stunning views around this world-famous tourist attraction that sits just a few miles from the golf course.

The tens of thousands of interlocking basalt columns form a spectacle so grand and beautiful that it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BLACK CAPS CWC LOSS STILL RANKLES WITH FOX FAN

When roving the course, you get the opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life.

One of the Omnisport team was involved in a three-way chat with an Indian man and New Zealand woman, who were there mainly supporting Shubhankar Sharma and Ryan Fox.

The conversation briefly turned to cricket, where the Black Caps supporter was adamant the Kiwis should not have lost the World Cup, which incredibly was less than a week ago.

"Our own countryman stole it!" she said, in reference to New Zealand-born Ben Stokes dramatically and accidentally deflecting the ball for four additional runs at a crucial juncture.

Sport hurts, kids...

PORTRUSH LOCAL SHOWS THE WAY

Often after the cut at a major championship, the field is left with an odd number of players, meaning one poor soul is scheduled to tee off alone.

But usually the said player - on this occasion Paul Waring - will play with a marker, and Royal Portrush head professional Gary McNeill had that honour on Saturday.

And he enjoyed a moment to savour at the 17th hole when he drained a monster putt in front of an appreciative local crowd.

SHANE LOVES LOVE ISLAND...

One of the more popular TV shows in the United Kingdom right now is Love Island, a show where young, single males and females spend time in a villa looking for love... and it's not to everyone's taste.

But for the Open Championship leader it's the ideal way to unwind after a round on the course.

"I'd be lying if I said Love Island wasn't on [in the house]," Lowry said, to laughter among the press pack. "I do the same things as any other person [to relax], I lay back and watch on TV. "

Each to their own, Shane...

Shane Lowry produced the finish of dreams in round three of the Open Championship to take a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood heading into Sunday.

The Irishman brilliantly made the most of the favourable scoring conditions at Royal Portrush on Saturday to sign for an 8-under 63, just one stroke off levelling the lowest score in Open history, leaving him at 16 under for the tournament.

It would take a huge turnaround for Lowry not to make his major breakthrough on the Dunluce Links. After Fleetwood, Lowry's nearest challengers are J.B. Holmes (-10), Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose (both -9).

But the threat of heavy rain looms large in Portrush, so there may yet be one final twist in this Open tale in Northern Ireland.

Below we profile the leading contenders and the best of the rest heading in round four.


THE MAIN CONTENDERS


SHANE LOWRY:

Age: 32

Best major finish: T2 at 2016 U.S. Open

Current ranking/highest ranking: 33/17

European/PGA Tour wins: 4

Reasons he'll win: There has been a vociferous backing for Irishman Lowry this week at Portrush and it is an energy he has fed off to the greatest effect. He is also a dab hand on the links and has looked utterly unflappable this week.

Reasons he won't win: There is a target on Lowry's back and the last time he was in a scenario like this at the 2016 U.S. Open he did not exactly enjoy the pressure. Leading by four heading into the final round at Oakmont, he limped to a six-over-par 76 and finished three off winner Dustin Johnson.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD:

Age: 28

Best major finish: 2nd at 2018 U.S. Open

Current ranking/highest ranking: 20/9

European/PGA Tour wins: 4

Reasons he'll win: Growing up in Southport, close to Royal Birkdale, Fleetwood just loves these type of golf courses and the adverse weather forecast for Sunday is unlikely to cause him too much concern. Seeing his good pal Francesco Molinari win this same tournament a year ago will also act as motivation to reel in Lowry.

Reasons he won't win: The gap to Lowry is now a big one and he will need his last-day rival to lose the tournament as much as he will need to win it. All Fleetwood can do is make sure he is clinical when the birdie chances present themselves.


BEST OF THE REST:

J.B. Holmes

Reasons he'll win: If either of the two men above him flounder, Holmes has shown throughout the weekend he can really play around Portrush. Three years ago at Troon he was the best of the rest as Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson played out one of the greatest final days in major history.

Reasons he won't win: On a day where scoring was favourable, Holmes could only muster a two-under 69. If the bad weather arrives on Sunday, which it is fully expected to, chances to go low will be scarce.


Brooks Koepka:

Reasons he'll win: Because that is what Brooks Koepka likes to do in majors. He has four of them since 2017. The world number one's record this year reads 2-1-2 and if he can get his putter firing hot then who knows?

Reasons he won't win: Koepka has been giving himself chances to shoot a really low score all week but has been blowing cold with the flatstick. It could ultimately prove his downfall here.


Justin Rose:

Reasons he'll win: You don't become a major champion and a world number one for nothing. It's undoubtedly a tall order but having come so close at Carnoustie a year ago, Rose will be focused on producing the round of his dreams.

Reasons he won't win: Just the sheer volume of variables he will need. Lowry and Fleetwood will have to drop back, the weather will have to not be quite as bad as expected, and even if those things happen he will have to outplay Koepka.

Shane Lowry is optimistic he can complete the job after securing a four-shot lead to take into the final round of The Open Championship.

The Irishman's 63 on Saturday put him well clear of Tommy Fleetwood, who was in turn two shots in front of third-placed J.B. Holmes.

Lowry would be a hugely popular winner at Royal Portrush, but he was reminded after his third round of a similar scenario three years ago at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, when he also led by four after 54 holes.

On that occasion, a closing 76 saw him finish in a tie for second.

This time Lowry is determined to last the distance and carry off the Claret Jug.

He said: "I hope I’m going to be able to deal with it better. It’s going to be difficult. I know it's going to be hard.

"But I think I'm ready for it. Hopefully I'm ready for it."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Lowry said: "My mind's a bit fuzzy. I just really enjoyed today. Obviously, I played great golf. The crowd were incredible. And I just felt so comfortable out there.

"I'm hoping I feel that comfortable out there tomorrow. I know it's going to be a tough 24 hours ahead of me, but you know what, there's nowhere I'd rather be – a four-shot lead in an Open Championship in Ireland.

"Tomorrow's going to be incredible, regardless of what happens."

Lowry reached 16 under par for the tournament, and it would be a first major for the 32-year-old if he closes out the win.

"I felt so in control of my game. There are very few times in golf when you get into that position and it's just great when it happens," he added.

"Every time I hit the ball I just wanted to hole it because of the roar – I just wanted to hear that roar again.

"I said to Bo [caddy Brian Martin] walking off the 17th tee, the next half an hour we might never experience anything like it again so let's enjoy it and that's what I did.

"It all happened nicely today. It was one of the most incredible days of my life."

Shane Lowry shot a stunning 63 to take a four-shot lead into the final round of The Open Championship.

The Irishman started Saturday as co-leader with J.B. Holmes but ended the day six shots clear of the American, with Tommy Fleetwood now his nearest rival.

Having shot back-to-back 67s, Lowry's blemish-free third-round tally represented the best score of the week so far at Royal Portrush as he moved to 16 under overall.

But he faces a stiff challenge on Sunday, not only from fellow maiden major hopeful Fleetwood, but also the weather, with tee times having been moved forward amid a forecast of potential storms.

And it is not only the conditions that will test Lowry, who led by four going into the last round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont before collapsing and finishing three back of Dustin Johnson, as four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is one shot behind Holmes on nine under, along with Justin Rose.

American Holmes had got to 11 under by the 12th but his round stalled before a birdie at the last, while Lee Westwood endured a back-nine decline to fall eight shots back.

The likes of Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Danny Willett on seven under almost certainly have too much work to do.

On a warm and relatively calm day in Northern Ireland, it was Lowry who capitalised most to turn in a scorecard that boasted eight birdies.

Met with raucous applause onto every tee, he left most greens with a similar din ringing in his ears as his putter ran hot in a superb all-round display.

Lowry birdied 15, 16 and 17 and very nearly nailed a 25-foot putt for another gain at 18, which would have equalled the best score in Open history, but settled for a par to seal the greatest round of his life.

He will hope Sunday brings an even greater reward.

Sunday's tee times for the final round of The Open Championship have been brought forward due to concerns over adverse weather conditions.

The clear skies and light winds that greeted fans at Royal Portrush on Saturday are forecast to be replaced by heavy rains throughout most of the final day.

To avoid the threat of delays, tee times are scheduled to begin earlier in the morning with the opening group of the day now due to go off at 7.32am local time.

The leaders involved in the final round of the day will now begin at 1.47pm.

Danny Willett carded a 65 to surge into Open Championship contention and then warned Royal Portrush will "grow some teeth again" for Sunday's final round.

The 2016 Masters champion has worked wonders to put himself in the mix after an opening-round 74 and on Saturday he carded his best score at a major to go seven under for the tournament.

That put him within striking distance of a leading pack that includes Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and J.B. Holmes - none of whom have won a major.

But while there were favourable conditions for the third round, the closing 18 holes are set be played amid wind and rain in Northern Ireland.

Asked how he will deal with the inclement weather, the Englishman replied: "No idea!

"It could be windy and rainy, it could be just windy, it could be just rainy. We don't know until we get up in the afternoon.

"The weather looks pretty poor from about 9am onwards. Then this place will grow some teeth again.

"You've seen it fluctuate through different winds. Winds being stronger, guys find certain holes really difficult, a little bit of rain comes in. 

"If it is what it is forecast [on Sunday], 10 to 15-mile-an-hour winds and raining, this place will be a completely different kettle of fish."

 

Shane Lowry inched ahead midway through round way three of The Open, but J.B. Holmes, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood were all battling away towards the top of the leaderboard.

Irishman Lowry, co-leading with Holmes overnight at Royal Portrush, birdied the ninth and went out in three under to reach 11 under for the tournament.

Westwood made a trio of birdies from the second to the fourth to reach 10 under, a score matched by Fleetwood who picked up shots at the first, fifth and seventh.

Holmes had a birdie opportunity at the ninth, but failed to take advantage and was also one back of Lowry.

The excellent conditions at Royal Portrush were making for a fascinating day of scoring, with Rickie Fowler's five-under-par 66 allowing him to set the clubhouse target at eight under.

Danny Willett carded a majestic 65, his lowest round in major golf, to get back home at seven under for the tournament.

Brooks Koepka, Dylan Frittelli and Justin Harding were all at seven under and still out on the course.

Moving day was living up to its billing early in round three of The Open as Tommy Fleetwood joined the co-leaders at eight under and Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose each made early progress.

Clear skies at Royal Portrush was making for plenty of birdie opportunities and Fleetwood, starting just one shot back, made a gain on the first to move to eight under.

That was the same score as overnight leaders Shane Lowry and J.B. Holmes, who both parred the first hole.

Jordan Spieth was one adrift after back-to-back gains at the second and third, while Koepka and Rose birdied the second and were seven and six under respectively.

Cameron Smith also picked up a shot at the second, the par five proving a popular hole, and the Australian was at seven under, as was Lee Westwood.

There was plenty of movement from the earlier starters as well. Danny Willett was five under for the round through 13 and two shots back of the leaders, joining Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Henrik Stenson and Park Sang-hyun at six under.

Francesco Molinari hopes to soon be celebrating an Open Championship win for Tommy Fleetwood and insists the Englishman is destined to claim a major one day.

The 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year paired up with Fleetwood to form a formidable partnership at last year's Ryder Cup.

They became known collectively as 'Moliwood' and now the Italian half of that duo, who won the Claret Jug by two strokes at Carnoustie, wants to see his close friend's name next to his own on the famous silverware.

Fleetwood sat third at the midway point in Northern Ireland, just one stroke behind leading duo J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry.

"It would make a good story for you guys to have the two of us, one next to the other on the Claret Jug," said Molinari after shooting a 72 at Royal Portrush on Saturday, having narrowly made the cut.

"He's a friend and I'll cheer him on and hopefully he can get it done. There is still a long way to go but he's there definitely with a chance. If it's not this week I think it's coming soon.

"The way he plays, he's a very talented player and he's still very young.

"Talking about expectations, he needs to wait for his time and it will come, for sure. The way he plays and the way he handles himself, it's just a matter of time. 

"I hope for him it will be this week, it will be great to have his name next to mine on the Claret Jug and we can have a big party together next week."

Fleetwood, 28, goes out in the penultimate group alongside compatriot Lee Westwood on a day of generally favourable conditions on the Dunluce Links.

Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and the rest of the pack chasing J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry will have been licking their lips at the conditions for round three of The Open.

Royal Portrush was treated to clear skies and sunshine with only the slightest breeze for the early starters looking to climb the leaderboard on moving day, with the forecast suggesting the weather would stay the same throughout the day.

Lowry and Holmes are at eight under par after the opening two rounds and were scheduled to tee off at 3.50pm local time on the Dunluce Links.

Fleetwood and Lee Westwood (both -7) were set for the penultimate group, with Cameron Smith and Justin Harding – who were two shots back – the third-from-last pairing.

Rose and Koepka, who were two and three back respectively, were set to head to the first for a 3.20pm tee-off time.

Rory McIlroy may not have made the weekend, but another local hero Graeme McDowell drew plenty of local support and showed how it could be done by shooting a three-under-par 68.

Lucas Glover and Park Sang-hyun were three under through four and five holes of their respective third rounds, while Tom Lewis was at the same score having played 14.

Rory McIlroy hopes his stunning second round of 65 can be a springboard for success in the remainder of the year, even though it was not quite enough to avoid missing the cut at The Open.

After a disastrous 79 on the opening day, the Northern Irishman thrilled his home crowd at Royal Portrush with a fabulous fightback that saw him come up agonisingly short of qualifying for the weekend.

McIlroy carded seven birdies - five of them after the turn - but was unable to find another at either the 17th or 18th, leaving him at two over and narrowly on the wrong side of the cut line.

The four-time major winner became emotional during his post-round interview with Sky Sports but, when speaking in the mixed zone later, was keen to look to the future and the rest of his 2019 season.

"One of the great things about golf is there's always next week," McIlroy told the media. "I've got a pretty big tournament in Memphis to go to and I'm leaving here with a pretty solid golf game. 

"Obviously what happened yesterday was a bit of an anomaly, and there's a few big numbers thrown in there. But I felt today I showed the real Rory McIlroy and the golf that I can play.

"Even though the major season is over for me, there's still a lot to play for for me this year. 

"The rest of the PGA Tour schedule to go, and I'm probably going to have a pretty busy fall season. I've still got to play probably between eight and ten tournaments before the end of the year.

"The major season is over but the season and trying to finish the year off on a positive note isn't."

McIlroy had started his tournament with a quadruple bogey at the first but it was a poor finish to his opening round that stung the most, having dropped five shots over the closing three holes.

"Today was probably one of the most fun rounds of golf I've ever played," the 30-year-old said.

"It's strange saying that standing here and having had a bit of success and won this championship before, and just to be battling to make the cut.

"To play in front of those crowds today and to feel that momentum and really dig in, it's going to be a tough one to get over. I'll probably rue the finish yesterday, dropping five shots on the last three holes.

"But I felt like I gave a good account of myself today and I can leave here with my head held high."

Rory McIlroy was moved to the brink of tears by the support from the Royal Portrush crowd as he fell agonisingly short in his heroic bid to make the cut at The Open.

The home favourite appeared dead and buried after his opening-round 79, which included a quadruple-bogey eight at the first hole.

But on Friday he electrified the Dunluce Links with a stunning 65 that took him to within a whisker of making the weekend on home soil.

However, a poor approach at 18 left him with a near-impossible chip from off the green that he could only put within five feet, leaving him one stroke short of an incredible revival.

"Part of me is very disappointed not to be here for the weekend," the four-time major winner told Sky Sports.

"Disappointed and emotional but happy with how I played.

"The support I got out there was incredible. You could see out there on the back nine if I'd got that momentum a little bit yesterday, I went with it today and that's what I was planning to do all week.

"Yesterday gave me a big mountain to climb but I dug in there, I tried my best, I showed really good resilience.

"It's going to hurt for a little bit but the good thing about golf is I've got a tournament to play in Memphis next week so I'm going to turn my attention to that.

"But this is a week I've been looking forward to for a long time."

McIlroy will now assume a watching brief as the remainder of the field battle it out for the Claret Jug he won in 2014.

And the 30-year-old is looking forward to watching co-leader Shane Lowry go for glory, with the Irishman on eight under alongside J.B. Holmes, leading a chasing pack that features the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka.

"I can't wait to watch him [Lowry] over the weekend," said McIlroy. "I was following the board closely and I saw he got to 10 under with a few holes to go and dropped back.

"Shane will relish these conditions and he's the home boy that's up there now so he's going to get all of this support that I got. 

"Hopefully they can pull him on and I'd love nothing more than to see Shane get his name on that Claret Jug."

It was time to say goodbye for half the field at Royal Portrush on Friday as the Open Championship cranked up a notch.

Many of the morning and early afternoon starters were treated to favourable scoring conditions on the Dunluce Links, which made for a fascinating leaderboard.

But many were disappointed having missed the cut in Northern Ireland - not least of all home favourite Rory McIlroy - and will have to take a watching brief for the final two rounds.

Our Omnisport writers were out and about on Friday, bringing you some of the highlights you may have missed.


ASK A SILLY QUESTION...

Brooks Koepka was speaking to the media about perceived putting woes after his second round.

The four-time major winner spoke of his belief that he would be higher up the leaderboard had he got his flatstick going, which led to this amusing exchange.

"Did you expect to be leading?" "I wanted to, but it's hard to when you don't make any putts." "So you'd rather lead? Some people like to sneak under the radar." "No, I'd rather be in last place..."

Never change, Brooks.


HOLMES HAS AN ACE UP HIS SLEEVES

J.B. Holmes kept himself firmly in contention for a maiden major title yet spent the majority of his media conference fielding questions about his dog.

Fellow dog-lover Tommy Fleetwood had already spoken of his envy over Holmes' ability to take his pooch to many PGA Tour events, although the American doesn't have him in Northern Ireland.

Holmes' four-legged friend is called Ace and he's a miniature Goldendoodle who cost $5,000 at a charity auction and is much loved by the entire Holmes family.

The question the 37-year-old had to think hardest about was whether he preferred his dog or his caddie.

"Oh, that's tough," he said while pondering his reply. "They're both my best friend."

 

CONFLICTING LEVELS OF OPTIMISM FOR RORY

McIlroy had a day to forget on Thursday. In fact he had a day the packed-out course at Royal Portrush wanted to forget.

But his opening-day woes and the drizzly rain did little to dampen the spirits of a partisan crowd when McIlroy played the first hole of his second round, as people jostled for position to catch a glimpse of their hero.

One spectator standing next to a member of the Omnisport team yelled that "61 will do it Rory!" in a true show of encouragement.

Another fan whispered rather more sheepishly: "He needs nothing short of a miracle..."

In fairness, we all know who was realistically speaking the truth...

It was a close-run thing as McIlroy added a sparkling 65 to his opening 79, but there was to be no miracle of Portrush for the Northern Irishman.

O'DRISCOLL TALKS TACKLING PORTRUSH

Two of Omnisport's crew took a trip over to the spectators' village at Royal Portrush to chat with HSBC ambassadors Tim Henman and Brian O'Driscoll.

The competitive nature of both men clearly still burns strong as a spot of crazy golf was in order before it was interview time.

Ireland rugby union great O'Driscoll spoke about playing Portrush a few weeks ago. So, what score did you shoot Brian?

"I actually played well. I had a 74, which is one of my career low scores," he said. "I started a bit ropey with bogey-double, then I went one under from there so it was definitely one to remember."

Some people are just good at everything...

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