Shane Lowry has won the final major of the year by a stunning six-stroke margin. Steve Rawlings looks back at his brilliant victory here...
"Lowry’s win prevented the first American major clean sweep since 1982 and this major clearly provides the British and Irish with a great chance. Links golf is unique and growing up playing it is a huge advantage – six of the top-nine were English, Irish or Scottish."
Given the Open Championship was being played outside of Scotland or England for only the second time in its illustrious history, and it was returning to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years, the 148th edition of the world's oldest major was the most eagerly awaited in many a year. It didn't disappoint.
We began the week with the most bizarre starts, with local hero and warm favourite, Rory McIlroy, seemingly blowing his chance of victory at the very first hole on Thursday morning, when he made a quadruple bogey eight, and we ended it with Irishman, Shane Lowry romping to a six-stroke victory. Incredibly, he could have afforded a worse score than Rory at the opening hole and he would have still finished up lifting the Claret Jug!
Lowry came into the event in fair form. He'd finished only 34th in the Irish Open two weeks before but in his three previous starts, he'd finished eighth in the USPGA Championship, second in the Canadian Open and after slow start, 28th in the US Open. And that all followed a win in Abu Dhabi back in January and a third-place finish at the RBC Heritage in April. Lowry was a 70/1 chance on the High Street, but he was matched at a high of [140.0] on the exchange, with the bulk of pre-tournament money matched at [100.0].
Having backed Rory before the off, I was always up against it and none of my pre-event picks ever really looked like winning, although [140.0] shot, Tyrrell Hatton, did eventually finish tied for sixth, and my side market bets were largely a disappointment.
I was keen on the chances of Rafa Cabrera-Bello in the top-ten and top-20 markets but he was out of the reckoning by Thursday dinnertime. Lucas Bjerregaard finding form from nowhere scuppered the Top Dane bet and Bubba Watson making the cut was a frustration too but it wasn't all doom and gloom. Adam Hadwin was confirmed the top Canadian as early as Friday when he was the only one to make the cut and young Robert McIntyre, who finished tied sixth, landed both the Top Scottish and the Top Lefty wagers.
As highlighted in the In-Play blog, with the weather forecasts so changeable, after a couple of early plays on Henrik Stenson and Dylan Frittelli, I soon realised that I needed to exercise plenty of caution and my next bet wasn't placed until Saturday morning, when I backed Lowry at [9.4].
I layed him back again at [1.65] on Saturday night as to make sure the tournament was going to be a profitable one but I needn't have bothered.
What Have We Learned This Week?
Lowry was very nearly a decent fit before the off statistically. After Dave Tindall had crunched the numbers for his 10 year trends piece, these were the strongest trends to look out for...
- Has had a previous top 6 in an Open
- Is 35 or over
- In world's top 30
- Has a top 20 in one of their previous two starts
- Played the week before
- Has won this season
- Is not the defending champion (10 of last 10 have failed to win the following year)
Although he'd missed his last four cuts at the Open, and he hadn't finished inside the top-six, like nine of the previous ten winners, he'd registered a top-ten finish in the championship previously. At 32 he was a little younger than the majority of recent winners and he was ranked 33 in the Official World Rankings (now 17th) when eight of the previous 10 had been inside the top-50 and seven of the ten, inside the top-30.
He hadn't finished inside the top 20 in either of his last two starts but as highlighted above, he'd been in decent recent form and he hadn't played the week before (more on that below) but playing in the Irish Open at a very similar course two weeks ago was a big plus. And just like seven of the previous ten winners, he'd won earlier in the season.
Given eight of the previous nine Open winners had played the week before (and the majority had played in the Scottish Open) that was a trend I was really keen on but Lowry was the fourth winner in five years not to have played in the Scottish so that needs rethinking somewhat.
This was the third year in-a-row that the Open Championship immediately followed the Irish and Scottish Opens and it's interesting to see that the first and second, Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood, both played at Lahinch but didn't travel to Scotland. With the benefit of hindsight, although playing Ireland and skipping Scotland hadn't been the recipe for success before this year, it made sense this time given the similarity of the venues and given Paul McGinley, the Irish Open host, specifically set up Lahinch to replicate Portrush.
Whether we'll see the routine of Ireland, miss a week, play the Open, establish itself as a trend is debatable and going forward, until we return to Portrush, which we absolutely must, I'd still just favour those playing in the Scottish to those taking the Lowry/Fleetwood route but I will be cautious of those not playing a links course before the off and I will be wary of those who have played both the Irish and the Scottish.
Brooks Koepka struggled all week long on the greens at Portrush and I can't help but think he'd have putted better if he'd played tournament golf on a links set-up in either of the two weeks previously.
As already mentioned, Cabrera-Bello came into the week in hot form with a pair of top-tens in Ireland and Scotland and Bernd Wiesberger had finished second and first in Ireland and Scotland but both struggled but three placed players played in both links warm-ups.
Lee Westwood, who eventually finished tied for fourth, had finished down the field in both the Irish and Scottish Opens, Hatton had finished 14th in Scotland, having missed the cut in Ireland, and MacIntyre had missed the weekend action in his homeland having finished tied for 41st in Ireland.
Three weeks of links action in-a-row is a lot and the results suggest that it might be too much - unless you don't really contend in either of the first two events.
I was really cautious with my in-play this year, mainly because the weather forecasts were so changeable and I didn't know the course. Every time I checked the weather forecasts they appeared to have changed dramatically and it had a big say in the result.
The wind died down on Saturday afternoon. That helped the leaders considerably, enabling Lowry to shoot clear with a brilliant course record 63 but we'd have had a very different championship if Sunday's wild and windy weather had arrived on Saturday.
Tony Finau was the only player in the last ten groups not to shoot over-par yesterday, yet the defending champ, Francesco Molinari, who had teed off just after nine, shot a five-under-par 66 in the morning to climb 43 places into a tie for 11th. Had we had Sunday's weather on Saturday, we would have witnessed all sorts of change on the leaderboard, but as it transpired, yet again, being right up with the pace was key.
Lowry sat second after round one, a stroke behind J.B Holmes and those two sat tied at the top at halfway before Lowry led by four on Sunday morning and the first five home had all been inside the top-three and ties and within two of Holmes' lead after the opening round.
Lowry is the ninth halfway leader or co-leader to win this century, 14 of the 20 winners have been inside the top-five places at halfway and 15 of the 20 were within three strokes of the lead after 36 holes. Making up ground on a links track is tough - unless the weather causes havoc.
Lowry's win prevented the first American major clean sweep since 1982 and this major clearly provides the British and Irish with a great chance. Links golf is unique and growing up playing it is a huge advantage - six of the top-nine were English, Irish or Scottish.
And finally, if we do come back to Portrush soon, check out the form of the Abu Dhabi Championship. The first two home on Sunday have won the last three editions of the Abu Dhabi Championship, Rickie Fowler, who finished tied for sixth, won it in 2016 and Jamie Donaldson won in Abu Dhabi in 2013, months after he'd won the Irish Open at Portrush!
I could go on looking back and there's so much to ponder after such a brilliant tournament but with the WGC-FedEx St Jude Classic and the Barracuda Championship starting on Thursday, I've got research still to do. I'll be back with my previews in the next couple of days.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter