Shane Lowry is still the king of the jungle in The Open, and he’s vowed to go big game hunting again on Saturday as the game’s predators closed in on the leaders at Royal St George’s.
The reigning champion was determined not to let his long-awaited title defence peter out with a whimper, and he made sure he roared loudly on a traditional ice-cream cone Open afternoon in Sandwich as he birdied two of his last four holes and signed for a stunning, five-under 65 to keep his title dream alive.
He might be seven strokes behind the outstanding South African Louis Oosthuizen, who looked hell-bent on putting successive runner-up finishes in Majors this season behind him as he followed his opening 64 with a 65 to lead by two shots from American Collin Morikawa (64) and by three from the magnetic Jordan Spieth (67) with 36-hole record aggregate of 11-under par 129.
But Lowry knows he is right in the tournament now, and with the nerves of his opening 71 out of the way and cut safely negotiated, he believes he can exert pressure on moving day, rain, hail or shine.
“It’s very satisfying,” Lowry said. “I know we got the good end of the draw with the weather, and it was pretty nice out there this afternoon, but to shoot 65 around Royal St George’s is always a good effort.
“Royal St George’s is still tough no matter what conditions you are playing in, so the leader is still going to have to go out and play great golf. I am in a position now where I can go out and try and shoot a good score tomorrow.
“I feel like my iron play is pretty good and I rolled a few putts in today. I felt comfortable on the greens after not feeling too comfortable yesterday, so if I can keep putting myself in the fairway, I feel I can shoot a low number out there and put myself in a decent position going into Sunday.”
It was only Friday, but it had all the hallmarks of moving day as the big guns took advantage of blazing sunshine and a steady 15 mph breeze to make their moves before the R&A turns the screw slowly over the weekend.
World No 1 Dustin Johnson surged into a tie for fourth with Dylan Frittelli and Scottie Scheffler on seven under as he also shot 65 while Brooks Koepka birdied his last three holes for a 66 that leaves him just six adrift, tied for 12th with US Open champion Jon Rahm on five-under.
Playing with Oosthuizen and Lowry, the Spaniard shot a bogey-free, six-under 64 and sounds in the mood to steal another Major from under Oosthuizen’s nose.
“Hoping I don’t have to do anything extravagant, but if it needs to be done, I’ll try, and I have the confidence I can do it,” Rahm said.
Lowry might be tied for 17th on four-under, but he walked off the course with the air of a man who knows he shot 63 on Saturday at Royal Portrush two years ago and can do so again tomorrow. He missed just two fairways and only three greens but more importantly, he regained some confidence with the blade.
While he followed a birdie at the second with a bogey at the fifth after a clumsy chip, he rolled in a 20 footer at the sixth for a two, shaved the hole from 40 feet at the next, then made a 25 footer at the eighth and another putt at the ninth to move to two-under.
Oosthuizen was unflappable for most of the day, and after early birdies at the first and seventh, he went birdie-birdie-eagle from the 12th to move three shots clear of Morikawa on 12 under.
Lowry and Rahm were both firing on all cylinders, however, and as Oosthuizen made his first bogey of the week at the 16th, the Clara man sensed weakness and holed from 12 feet at the 15th and 18 feet at the 17th for birdies.
“I was 10 back in morning,” Lowry said. “Knew I needed to shoot a good score. To be honest, I sat down this morning with my coach Neil and we talked through yesterday’s round. I felt I was a bit hard on myself yesterday. I didn’t play as bad as I felt I did. So I just trusted myself to go out there today and shoot a good score, and thankfully I did.”
Oosthuizen was surprised to hear he’d shot a record total, but he’s not thinking of his second Open win just yet.
“You try not to think of it until you’ve done it,” he said. “I remember looking back at 2010, and I know I had a big lead, but the first time I really thought about I can win this tournament was after my tee shot on 17. There was a lot of things that could go wrong at St Andrews coming in, especially the tee shot on 14 and 16 and 17.
“Around this golf course, a lot of things can happen. I don’t think you want to think too much of it on a links course until you get to that 18th green, and hopefully you have a lead.”
As for Darren Clarke, the 2011 champion signed off with 75 to miss the one-over cut by five shots. But there were tears in his eyes as he saluted the crowd. With 36 holes to go that 72nd green ovation remains the Holy Grail for them all.