PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - Shane Lowry knows from personal experience that a four-shot lead starting the final round of a major championship is hardly insurmountable, never mind the wicked weather expected to throw an extra layer of uncertainty into the British Open mix on Sunday.
Lowry led by four strokes after 54 holes at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but struggled to a closing 76 as Dustin Johnson sauntered to victory.
That experience might serve the Irishman well this time, and he will be metaphorically if not literally carried by fervent support from the Royal Portrush galleries who have adopted him as one of their own.
But with polished performer Tommy Fleetwood in second place, and the relentless Brooks Koepka lurking seven behind, the engraver will not start etching Lowry’s name into the Claret Jug just yet.
“Who knows when I’ll be in this position again? So it’s taken me three years to get back here,” Lowry said, making to attempt to downplay the magnitude of the occasion.
“There’s no point in saying to go out and enjoy myself tomorrow because it’s going to be a very stressful and very difficult day.
“I’m going to take the bad shots on the chin and I’m going to take the good shots and try to capitalize on that. I’m just going to be myself and play my game and see where it leaves me.”
After perfect scoring conditions on Saturday, dry and calm, rain is expected to arrive late on Sunday morning, and the winds are forecast to blow up to 20 miles per hour (32 km per hour) by mid-afternoon.
Portrush’s punishing rough is just waiting to gobble up errant shots, a double-bogey or worse awaiting Lowry or anyone else who strays from the fairway. No lead will be safe.
The likelihood that the pace of play will slow as players are buffeted by the wind prompted the R&A to bring the Sunday tee times forward, with Lowry and Fleetwood off in the final pairing at 1.47 p.m. local time (1247 GMT).
It will still be a long night for Lowry as he contemplates being the second player from south of the border to lift a major trophy, after Padraig Harrington, who won three.
“He’s got a big lead but no lead is big enough when the weather gets bad on a links course,” said Lee Westwood, who is eight shots behind.
“He’s going to have an awful lot of pressure on him from the crowd. He’ll be nervous. It’ll be tough, long day for him.
“Last day is always long, but it’s going to be a hundred times worse for him.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Tony Lawrence