On The Open's first visit to Northern Ireland since 1951, Shane Lowry became the latest in a string of Irish golfers who have enjoyed recent success in a major championship.

Lowry's stunning six-shot triumph at Royal Portrush on Sunday represented the 10th major victory by a player from either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland in the last 12 years.

The new Open champion, who hails from County Westmeath in the Republic, follows in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington, the winner of The Open in 2007 and 2008 and also the US PGA Championship victor in the second of those seasons.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has had three major champions in the past decade, with Rory McIlroy winning four titles and triumphs also coming the way of Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

Since the start of 2007, the year Harrington first tasted Open glory, only the United States - with half of the 52 titles since then - can boast more major wins than either Northern Ireland or the Republic, and Lowry denied America a clean sweep in 2019.

We look at how many major winners have come from each country in that period.

 

Major wins by country since 2007:

26 - UNITED STATES - Brooks Koepka (4), Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth (both 3), Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson (all 2), Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland.

6 - NORTHERN IRELAND - Rory McIlroy (4), Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke.

4 - REPUBLIC OF IRELAND - Padraig Harrington (3), Shane Lowry; SOUTH AFRICA - Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Ernie Els.

2 - ARGENTINA - Angel Cabrera (2); GERMANY - Martin Kaymer (2); ENGLAND - Justin Rose, Danny Willett, AUSTRALIA - Adam Scott, Jason Day.

1 - SOUTH KOREA - Y.E. Yang; SWEDEN - Henrik Stenson; SPAIN - Sergio Garcia; ITALY - Francesco Molinari.

The 148th Open Championship came to its rain-drenched climax on Sunday as Shane Lowry claimed the Claret Jug.

It concluded a wonderful week at Royal Portrush and Lowry's victory thwarted an American clean sweep of the majors.

That an Irishman triumphed on the island of Ireland certainly raised the noise levels on the Dunluce Links.

And while the final-day field battled the elements, Omnisport's reporters on the ground were attempting to stay dry and pick out a few unseen tidbits for the last instalment of The Open Daily Diary.

TWO GOING ON 30

After Lowry prevailed, he hugged runner-up Tommy Fleetwood, but that wasn't the most heart-warming sight on the final green.

That came when Lowry's two-year-old daughter came onto the putting surface and was swept up in her father's arms.

It is a scene Lowry hopes to repeat as he expects to be making many more Open Championship visits with his little girl in tow.

"Look, I'm going to be coming back on another 27 Opens to play," he said. "She's going to be nearly 30 when I play my last one."

MIND THE ROPE, LADS

There's a wonderful vantage point midway down the first, where you are pretty much in the landing zone, can see the players hit off the tee and watch them on the greens.

One of our reporters was stationed here early on Sunday to take in some of the morning starters, and as ever there was an enthusiastic group creeping ever forward to try to get the best view possible.

"Lads, this is the second time - stay behind the white line," one steward warned as the group took the ropes a few feet inside the out of bounds line."

"Sorry mate, we did help you find those two balls, though," one replied.

"That's true... fair deal." Compromise is lovely.

YOUR WORK HERE IS DONE

There's an odd experience to be had on the final day of an Open if you choose to walk a few holes in reverse order once the final group has passed through.

Wandering from the third back towards the media centre, having caught Lowry and Fleetwood card a par and a bogey respectively, you see the holes where the work is done for the week.

The second and first, their fairways still lined with boundary ropes, lay dormant, with no spectators at their side. The tee boxes waiting patiently for players who will not arrive.

This Omnisport reporter found it a little bit emotional, but was stirred from his sombre reflections by a huge roar from down on the fourth green. A birdie for Lowry! And another hole had served its purpose.

MEDIA LEAKS IN THE MIXED ZONE

Omnisport covered all parts of The Open at Royal Portrush, including the mixed zone where players chat to reporters after a round.

The heavy rain was causing particular concern for our man on the ground in the interview area when water started to make an unwelcome appearance inside the tent.

Clearly he needed to adopt the spirit of those hardy souls in the Fan Village who saw the saturated ground as a prime spot for a bit of diving, with several of them sliding face down across the floor.

A downbeat Tommy Fleetwood is sure he will eventually have plenty of positives to take after his "dream" of winning The Open fell flat on a difficult final day at Royal Portrush.

Fleetwood could only muster a three-over 74 and finished six shots behind runaway winner Shane Lowry amid wet and windy conditions in Northern Ireland.

It marks the second time Fleetwood has finished runner-up in a major, having done so at Shinnecock in last year's U.S. Open, but he concedes falling short in The Open stings more.

"Shinnecock - I felt great that week. Shinnecock has a little piece of history, I shot 63 and it felt great. It was never my tournament," Fleetwood told reporters. "Today I was much more in the mix. I've had a really good feeling all weekend.

"The other part of it is, and I'm not putting down the U.S. Open, but if I could pick one event [to win] it would be The Open. It's my dream, and it always will be. And you're teeing off in the last group on Sunday with a very, very good chance.

"So it feels a lot rougher finishing when you feel like you've come so close to what you've dreamt as a kid. So that one just feels different."

Fleetwood's best finish in a 2019 major prior to Portrush was a tie for 36th at the Masters and having found form he remains confident of making a breakthrough in the biggest tournaments.

"I think I played a lot of very, very good golf this week. I think for me personally it was nice to play more like I feel like how I should play again," Fleetwood added.

"And of course it's my second runner-up in a major, which is great and I'm trending in the right way. I just hope my time will come eventually."

An emotional Shane Lowry said he cried in a car park at Carnoustie after missing the cut at last year's Open Championship, as he clinched the Claret Jug in style at Royal Portrush on Sunday.

Lowry scored a gritty one-over 72 in demanding conditions, where high winds and intermittent heavy rain made life difficult for the field, to seal a six-shot victory from Tommy Fleetwood.

The contrast to 12 months ago could not be more vast. Lowry had failed to make the weekend at The Open for a fourth straight year, plummeted to 92 in the world rankings and had lost some love for the game.

"I suppose I didn't even know going out this morning if I was good enough to win a major. I knew I was able to put a few days together," Lowry told reporters. 

"I just went out there and tried to give my best. I'm here now, a major champion. I can't believe I'm saying it, to be honest. I think the people around me really believed that I could, which helped me an awful lot. 

"I do remember a lot of times in the past when I'm down on myself and serious chats with Neil [Manchip, his coach], he always reminded me, he always said that I was going to win one, at least one, he said. So I suppose when the people around you really believe in you, it helps you an awful lot.

"I grew up holing putts back home to win The Open. I watched Paddy [Padraig Harrington] win his two Opens. I didn't even know him back then. I'm obviously very good friends with him. 

"You go into Paddy's house and the Claret Jug is sitting on the kitchen table, and I'm going to have one on my kitchen table as well. I said that to him, that's going to be quite nice.

"Carnoustie, that just shows how fickle golf is. Golf is a weird sport and you never know what's around the corner. That's why you need to remind yourself, and you need other people there to remind you. You need to fight through the bad times.

"I sat in the car park in Carnoustie on Thursday, almost a year ago right to this week, and I cried. Golf wasn't my friend at the time. 

"It was something that become very stressful and it was weighing on me and I just didn't like doing it. What a difference a year makes, I suppose."

After his Carnoustie setback, Lowry split with long-term caddie Dermot Byrne and has seen a marked turn up in fortunes with Bo Martin carrying his bag, winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships, and recording top-10s at the RBC Heritage, US PGA Championship and Canadian Open prior to his victory at Portrush.

Lowry, who revealed Martin recently became a father, said his caddie helped him keep calm amid Sunday's nerves.

"Bo's been incredible in the last year," he added. "He started caddying for me about September last year,which is about when I started playing well again.

"He brought a new lease of life to me, he was unbelievable today. I kept telling him how nervous I was, how scared I was, how much I don't want to mess it up. 

"He was great at keeping me in the moment. We've formed a great relationship. It was great for him today, they had a baby two weeks ago. He's now become a very good friend of mine, to share it with someone close, it's very special."

Lowry was also able to share his winning moment with wife Wendy and daughter Iris, a moment he will cherish.

"I spotted my family when I walked around the corner to have a look at the green and I welled up a little bit. I still had to play a decent shot but luckily I did," he said.

"Those pictures are everything. My wife knew that no matter what, she [Iris] should be there because had I lost she would console me."

Spare a thought for J.B. Holmes after the American ran up the worst final-round Open score in 53 years with an abysmal showing at Royal Portrush.

Holmes began Sunday in third place on the leaderboard, trailing Shane Lowry by six shots at 10 under par.

Yet as Lowry held his nerve magnificently amid challenging weather conditions to secure the Claret Jug with a closing 72, Holmes fell away in remarkable fashion, carding a 16-over 87.

His horrendous round featured one triple-bogey at the 11th and doubles at the first, 12th, 17th and 18th, while a solitary birdie came at the seventh.

According to respected golf statistician Justin Ray, Head of Content for the 15th Club, the score represents the worst in an Open final round since Lew Taylor also shot 87 in the 1966 Championship at Muirfield. 

Holmes, who also appeared to frustrate playing partner Brooks Koepka with the pace of his play, ended the tournament in a four-way tie for 67th at six over, with only three of the 73 players who made the cut below him.

He finished two shots adrift of Ashton Turner, who had teed off on Sunday at the foot of the leaderboard but managed an impressive 68 to improve his position before heavy rain and gusting winds arrived to make life awkward for the closing groups.

Had Holmes claimed third, the position he started the day in, he would have earned $718,000 - a prize that ultimately went to Tony Finau as Lowry picked up $1,935,000 for his victory and runner-up Tommy Fleetwood collected $1,120,000.

Holmes' eventual prize money, after a costly final round, was $25,088.

Brooks Koepka vented his frustration at the speed of fellow players after being visibly annoyed by playing partner J.B. Holmes in round four of The Open.

Holmes toiled his way to a dismal 87 in difficult conditions at Royal Portrush on Sunday, finishing the tournament six over having been in contention all weekend.

The 37-year-old is known as one of the more leisurely players on the PGA Tour and Koepka, who adopts a no-nonsense attitude, appeared unhappy with Holmes' approach – even pretending to point to a watch when walking off the 12th green.

"I wasn't wearing a watch, I mean he had a rough day but J.B. is a slow player. I know it's difficult with the wind, but I didn't think he was that bad today. I thought he was all right," he said.

"There were times where I thought it was slow. There's a lot of slow guys out here. It's not the first time I've done it, especially when you've got a walking official with you.

"We were on pace for 13 holes. But I mean, if I'm in a group, we're going to be on pace no matter what. I'm usually ready to go, as soon as the guy's ball is coming down.

"I'm ready to go most of the time. That's what I don't understand when it's your turn to hit, your glove is not on, then you start thinking about it, that's where the problem lies. 

"It's not that he takes that long. He doesn't do anything until his turn. That's the frustrating part. But he's not the only one that does it out here."

Koepka became just the fifth player after Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth to finish inside the top five of every major in a calendar year.

But Koepka, who was tied fourth at Portrush, was disappointed not to finish higher up the leaderboard.

"I don't see much positive out of it. If you don't play good you're not going to win," he added.

"So, it's very simple. It's disappointing. I didn't play the way I wanted to. And I've got to live with that."

One word was prevalent ever since Shane Lowry surged into contention at The Open this weekend. Oakmont.

"Oakmont was so long ago and I was a lot younger," Lowry said after moving into a co-share of the lead on Friday.

"I feel like if I get the opportunity this week I'll be better. It definitely won't affect me, what happened in Oakmont."

Amid the chanting, raucous cheers and sheer euphoria that greeted Lowry walking off the 18th green at the conclusion of the greatest round of his life at Royal Portrush on Saturday, there was an unsettling sense of deja vu due to his four-stroke advantage.

Three years ago, Lowry held the same lead going into the final 18 holes of the U.S. Open. He had one hand on the trophy, a major breakthrough in his grasp.

Yet in golf things are never that simple and that fateful Sunday just outside of Pittsburgh was dragged back to the fore for Lowry this week.

The pressure of holding a significant lead in a major for the first time was evident. Lowry never recovered from a difficult start at Oakmont and struggled to a six-over 76, eventually finishing three shots adrift of Dustin Johnson – who himself had to endure a nervy penalty-shot controversy to win what is to date his only victory in one of golf's big four.

However, at Portrush, Lowry only fleetingly betrayed his insistence that no mental scars remained from the most painful of experiences. A wayward drive down the first and an approach into the greenside bunker leading to an opening bogey would surely have had his heart rate skyrocketing.

Lowry is a different man to three years ago, though. He has a young daughter, Iris. His priorities and perspective have changed.

"If I'm sitting here this time tomorrow evening it will be one of the biggest things that ever happened to me, there's no denying that," Lowry commented in a news conference on Saturday.

"But I just felt at the time in Oakmont my golf meant a lot more to me back then than it does now. I'm not saying that it doesn't mean everything, it's my career. But I've got certain things in my life that make it different. I've got family now. No matter what, my family will be waiting for me."

It has been a long journey back to this point. After missing the cut at last year's Open, for the fourth time in succession, Lowry slumped to a ranking of 92nd. 

Following the first round at Carnoustie 12 months ago, there was a pretty blunt declaration from Lowry.

"I'm not enjoying my golf at the minute, and my golf is not really enjoying me and that's the way it is, and it's hard to take," he said.

There was a recognition change was needed. Lowry split with long-time caddie Dermot Byrne in September and there has been a huge upturn in fortunes with new man on the bag Brian 'Bo' Martin, who grew up around two hours away from Portrush in Ardglass.

Victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, after which an emotional Lowry spoke about a "tough couple of years on the golf course", preceded top-10s at the RBC Heritage, US PGA Championship and Canadian Open.

"With Bo I find I play golf now like there's no consequences, you know what I mean? You need to hit shots like there's no consequence," explained Lowry.

"What's the worst thing that can happen? If I swing the club here and hit the ball, no matter where it goes, what is the worst thing that can happen to you? That's kind of the mindset he brings into it. That's when I play my best. That's the way I am. I think we gel together nicely that way.

"I think as a golfer you have such a long career, well, hopefully you have such a long career, I've been [a professional for] 10 years now and it's just a rollercoaster.

"I think the reason I'm so good mentally now is I feel like I know how to take the downs."

There was no bigger down in Lowry's career than Oakmont three years ago. Now, standing a Champion Golfer after an astounding six-shot victory, there is no greater high.

That it should happen at Portrush, an Irishman winning on Irish soil, makes it only more special.

It was for so long unthinkable the tournament could be held here as the days of the Northern Ireland conflict, a period of history known as The Troubles, devastatingly split the country.

But this is a different time and there was a wonderful buzz around Portrush as home hero Rory McIlroy prepared to begin the week as one of the favourites for glory.

McIlroy, of course, did not even make the weekend and it was instead left to Lowry, from County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland, to slip under the radar and earn the acclaim of an adoring crowd.

He will, at some point after what will no doubt be a hefty celebration, go to bed with the Claret Jug, fresh in the knowledge the demons of Oakmont have been truly banished.

A stunned Shane Lowry said he felt like he was going through an "out-of-body experience" after cantering to Open Championship glory at Royal Portrush.

Ten years on from sensationally winning the Irish Open as an amateur, Lowry again exceeded all expectations by claiming his maiden major title with a phenomenal performance.

After pulling four clear at the top of the leaderboard with a stunning 63 on Saturday, the Irishman held his nerve to card a one-over 72 in challenging weather conditions.

Lowry's lead barely came under threat on the final day as he retained a comfortable cushion over playing partner Tommy Fleetwood.

"Honestly, I feel like I'm in like an out-of-body experience," Lowry told Sky Sports as he reflected on his efforts.

"I was so calm coming down the last hole, I couldn't believe it. What a day."

Asked how he had remained so calm under enormous pressure, Lowry replied: "I'll be really honest with you, I didn't!"

He then credited caddie Brian 'Bo' Martin with playing a key role in his victory, adding: "I talked to Bo a lot today. I told him, 'honestly, I can't stop thinking about winning, I can't stop thinking about holding the Claret Jug'. And, you know, this is after six or seven holes and he was [saying], 'just stay with me, stay with me' all day.

"He stayed on my back and he kept talking in my ear. He was great and what a job he did today.

"It was difficult out there, the weather was so hard. I wasn't going great around the middle of the round but then I had a look at the leaderboard and saw everyone else was struggling. And then it kind of turned into a two-horse race between me and Tommy, which was was good for me, I think.

"I just tried to focus on staying as far ahead of Tommy as I could."

After being presented with the Claret Jug, Lowry said: "To have an Open Championship here on the island of Ireland at Royal Portrush Golf Club is just amazing. To the volunteers and the fans - thank you so much, this one's for you."

The champion also showed emotion as he thanked his parents and added: "They sacrificed so much for me when I was younger and I’m so happy that I can hand them this trophy tonight."

Shane Lowry held his nerve magnificently under pressure to claim his first major title at The Open.

The Irishman secured a hugely popular success at Royal Portrush, finishing six shots clear of Tommy Fleetwood after following up his sensational third-round 63 with a one-over 72 that was arguably even more impressive given the challenging weather conditions and the magnitude of Sunday's final 18 holes.

Lowry had begun the fourth round leading by four at 16 under, with Fleetwood his nearest challenger.

We look at how the last day unfolded.

 

1:47pm BST - The final pairing of Lowry and Fleetwood tee off in rising winds, with Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes having already gone out of bounds on the first. Lowry and Fleetwood both avoid that horrible fate, although the Irishman's tee shot is a nervous one into the rough on the left.

2pm - Having struggled badly on the opening hole, finding the bunker with his second and then coming up short with both his third and fourth shots, Lowry shows resilience to drain a six-footer for his bogey. That means his lead is only cut by one stroke, with Fleetwood having missed a presentable birdie opportunity.

2:26pm - Lowry's lead becomes four strokes once more as Fleetwood's cold start with the putter continues, the Englishman missing a short par-saver on the third. Meanwhile, Lee Westwood picks up a shot at the fifth - having earlier pitched in for birdie at the third - to trail by five.

2:39pm - The leader stretches his advantage over Fleetwood to five, birdieing the fourth after a fine approach shot. In the penultimate group, Brooks Koepka makes a spectacular eagle on the fifth. However, that comes after he had bogeyed each of the first four holes. At seven under for the tournament, he is nine behind Lowry.

2:51pm - As conditions worsen at Portrush, Fleetwood can only birdie the fifth despite leaving himself a fairly short eagle putt. Lowry matches his partner's three to reach 17 under and remain five clear.

3:22pm - Fleetwood gets up and down from a greenside bunker at the seventh to save par, but Lowry makes a tap-in birdie, his third gain in four holes. At 18 under, he leads by six and is in command of the tournament.

3:57pm - After he and Fleetwood had each bogeyed the eighth amid a burst of torrential rain, Lowry gives up another shot at the ninth to turn in a level-par 36. A fine up-and-down sees Fleetwood end the outward nine with a par and sit five off the pace, with Westwood two further back after a bogey at 11. Everyone else appears to be out of the running.

4:31pm - Lowry's wobble continues as he follows up a gutsy par save at the start of his back nine with a third bogey in four holes at 11. However, he remains five clear of Fleetwood, whose putter let him down from close range at the 10th. Westwood's race is run as he slides back into the group at seven under, eight off the pace.

4:51pm - Fleetwood reduces his deficit to four shots for the first time since the third hole, courtesy of a two-putt birdie at the par-five 12th.

5:20pm - Despite making his fifth bogey of the day at the 14th, Lowry finds himself five clear once more as Fleetwood drops two shots. After finding a bunker off the tee and heavy rough with his second, the Englishman looks to have left himself with too much to do.

5:32pm - Lowry makes a brilliant birdie at the 15th to move further clear, extending his lead to six with just three holes to play. The crowd favourite celebrates with a determined fist pump.

6:09pm - The crowd at Royal Portrush goes wild as a beaming Lowry finishes with his third par in a row to complete a round of 71 and triumph by six strokes.

There was one name on everybody's lips at the start of the week at Royal Portrush - Rory McIlroy.

Cast into a leading role he seemed eager to shun, McIlroy winning The Open Championship on home soil was the story everybody wanted to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

Too bad, then, that he shot a quadruple-bogey eight on the very first hole to slide from pre-tournament favourite to a likely bet to miss the cut.

The incomplete miracle of his stunning second-round revival aside, McIlroy's race was effectively run inside 15 minutes of madness on Thursday.

It left a void at the Dunluce Links that was initially filled by compatriot Darren Clarke, the 2011 Champion Golfer of the Year getting home in even par on an opening day when he had the honour of teeing off first.

But then he too fell before the weekend, a gut-wrenching triple bogey on the last ending his fun.

At least Graeme McDowell made it to the business end of things, giving the sell-out crowd a home hope to lend their significant backing to.

It was no more than a consolation, for sure, but it was still a long way short of filling the McIlroy-shaped hole that had been left by the four-time major winner's shock exit, because McDowell was not threatening to win it.

And, worse still, after two rounds there was an American sharing the leaderboard summit as J.B. Holmes primed himself to complete the first US clean sweep of the majors since 1982.

Something had to be done to keep the Claret Jug a little closer to home. Step forward Shane Lowry, the man with whom Holmes was unwillingly sharing that lead.

A couple of rounds of 67 had the Irishman in the hunt for a maiden major. Here was Royal Portrush's new leading man. 

On Saturday, he lived up to that billing - and indeed went some way beyond it - with a round of golf that he may never surpass.

It read on the scorecard as a blemish-free 63 - impressive enough even by the raw data - but the way in which he came to sign for that number was breathtaking.

He hit 17 of the 18 greens in regulation and when the chasing pack were threatening he accelerated once more, nailing birdies at 15, 16 and 17 despite having made no gains on those holes over the first two rounds.

That run, including a mighty close call with another birdie at the last, worked the Portrush crowd into a frenzy. Where 24 hours prior there had been sympathetic applause for McIlroy's closing par, which sealed his fate, Lowry's tap-in four was met by a deafening roar.

It left him four shots clear heading into Sunday and ‘Lowry!’ chants rang out around the course, which was again packed to capacity when he returned for the final round.

Although he had let a four-stroke margin vanish in a major before, Lowry refused to wilt in abysmal conditions, just as the fans refused to let their spirits be dampened by the wind and rain that so often feel obliged to make their presence known at an Open.

After a 68-year absence from these shores, the return of golf's oldest major to Northern Ireland was never going to be a quiet affair, but Lowry made damn sure of that fact.

He gave the crowd - be they from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, or frankly anywhere on the planet - something to root for; he gave us that story to write, to read, and to talk about for generations to come.

Now there is a different name on everyone's lips at Royal Portrush – and that name is Shane Lowry.

Shane Lowry defeated the elements and his rivals in stunning fashion to become a major winner for the first time, recording a commanding six-shot victory for an emotional Open Championship triumph at Royal Portrush.

A day after he emerged from a bunched pack in a spectacular finish to round three, Lowry held his nerve to triumph by a distance on 15 under par, shooting a one-over 71 amid constantly changing conditions that included severe rain on the Dunluce Links.

Tommy Fleetwood, who started four back on Sunday, could not get going with the putter despite some handy looks for birdie early in his round and the Englishman struggled to a 74 that left him six behind the champion.

Lowry had reached a low point 12 months ago at the same tournament at Carnoustie, where he missed the cut - for the fourth Open in succession - and slipped to 92nd in the world rankings.

Yet this victory, the first in a major with a margin of five or more strokes since Rory McIlroy's U.S. Open triumph at Congressional in 2011, was just reward for four days of sublime golf played with the backing of a vociferous crowd desperate for an Irish winner on Irish soil.

It marks a crowning moment in Lowry's career three years on from him letting a four-shot lead slip in the final round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

His success owed much to a fantastic eight-under 63 on Saturday when the glorious conditions were in stark contrast to the heavy downpours and high winds that greeted the leaders the following day.

The landscape of the leaderboard could have been markedly different after the first hole the final pairing played in the fourth round, when Lowry followed a nervy tee shot that landed in the left rough with an approach into the greenside bunker, while Fleetwood put his approach to within 10 feet.

Lowry limited the damage, though, recovering to make bogey as his nearest rival missed a presentable birdie chance.

An increasingly assured Lowry duly extended his lead with a run of three birdies in four holes to reach 18 under through seven and, even when the weather worsened to make scoring difficult, his lead never really came under threat thereafter.

Three dropped shots between the eighth and 11th did little damage, with Fleetwood also dropping shots in the damp conditions.

A birdie at 12 brought Fleetwood within four, but a double-bogey six at 14 killed any hope of a comeback and another birdie for Lowry at 15 brought huge cheers.

The chasing pack below Lowry and Fleetwood only fleetingly threatened any sort of charge, with Lee Westwood the only man bar the leaders to reach 10 under at any stage on Sunday.

Westwood ultimately finished in a tie for fourth with world number one Brooks Koepka at six under, with Tony Finau one shot better off in third after a level-par 71.

Last year's Open champion, Francesco Molinari, carded a 66 before the poor weather arrived to share 11th at three under.

Shane Lowry was edging ever closer to winning The Open despite making back-to-back bogeys to complete his first nine holes in round four at Royal Portrush.

The Irishman, ahead by four overnight after a stunning 63 on Saturday, played an ugly first hole to start with a bogey but soon looked in control as he birdied the fourth, fifth and seventh to reach 18 under.

The heavy rains forecast for Sunday arrived and made their presence felt as Lowry made bogeys at eight and nine to turn in a level-par 36.

However, at 16 under, he was still five clear of nearest challenger and playing partner Tommy Fleetwood, who was one over for his round after failing to convert a few looks at birdie early on.

Lee Westwood was third at nine under, seven off the pace, with every other player seemingly out of contention.

Brooks Koepka made a superb eagle at the fifth, but only after bogeying his opening four holes. The world number one was in a group at seven under with Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler and Danny Willett.

Brooks Koepka's chances of winning The Open were all but dashed after he made a torrid start to round four.

The world number one began Sunday, which was expected to bring heavy rain and strong wind, seven shots back of Shane Lowry and he needed a fast start to close the gap.

Yet Koepka, who finished second, first and second in the first three majors of the year, opened with four straight bogeys in a shoddy beginning to his round.

It meant Koepka was five under for the tournament having played four holes, 10 shots behind leader Lowry, and in need of a dramatic turnaround in fortunes.

Such a prospect appeared as bleak as the skies at Portrush, with the worst of the forecast weather having not yet arrived.

Shane Lowry saw his Open Championship lead cut to three as Tommy Fleetwood closed the gap on a day when high winds and heavy rain are forecast at Royal Portrush.

The Irishman began Sunday's round - brought forward amid fears over the weather - with a four-stroke lead over Fleetwood following his stunning 63 on Saturday, but he dropped a shot at the first to sit on 15 under.

It is the second time Lowry has taken such a margin into the final 18 holes of a major, having done so at the 2016 U.S. Open before closing with a 76 to miss out on the title.

Backed by a noisy crowd, Lowry found the rough with his opening tee shot and then his approach rolled back into a green-front bunker, from which he failed to get up and down.

Fleetwood, who is also seeking a maiden major, could have halved the overnight deficit but missed a 10-foot birdie putt and settled for par to stay 12 under.

The next winner of the Claret Jug appeared highly likely to come from that final duo, but J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose would have started the day with other ideas.

Victory for Holmes or Koepka would complete the first American clean sweep of the majors since 1982, handing the former his first and the latter his fifth.

However, Holmes went out of bounds off the first tee en route to a double-bogey six and Koepka also dropped a shot.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner, remained on nine under through his first two holes.

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