When The Open returned to Northern Ireland at Royal Portrush Golf Club for the first time since 1951, many golf pundits penciled in the island’s native son as the eventual winner. Quite fortuitous considering by mid-afternoon Sunday, that’s exactly what they got. The only problem was – it wasn’t the right son.
Entering the week, it was Northern Ireland’s own Rory McIlroy who faced seemingly insurmountable pressure that stemmed in large part from his own accomplishments as an amateur golfer growing up on and around Royal Portrush – the host of the 2019 Open Championship. On top of being everyone’s favorite local, McIlroy also owned the course record. A 61, which he fired during Walker Cup qualifying at just 16 years of age. However, the pressure of carrying the weight of a nation’s expectations, as well as attempting to re-create that magical course-record setting round, proved to be far too much and showed from his opening tee shot. His seven at the first hole of the tournament left just 54 shots over the remaining 17 holes if he were to match his own record. Those troubles continued throughout Thursday, where his first round 79 made even seeing the weekend virtually impossible. McIlroy rebounded by shooting 65 in round two, only to miss the cut by just a single shot.
If being a native and having won on the course prior to The Open was the pre-requisite for pressure, it somehow missed the Republic of Ireland’s Shane Lowry. Lowry, a winner at Royal Portrush as an amateur, became the Champion Golfer of the Year by an astonishing six strokes. His third round 63 was just two strokes shy of tying McIlroy’s course record and all but officially ended the tournament entering the final round. Overcoming all that pressure and avoiding mistakes in less-than-fortunate weather on Sunday, Lowry jettisoned all of Ireland – political differences aside – into the frenzy they’d all been anticipating.
Lowry became Ireland’s second major champion ever, joining fellow Republic of Ireland native, Padraig Harrington.
“I just couldn’t believe it was me. I couldn’t believe it was happening.” Lowry exclaimed at his post-round press conference. “It’s funny, I sometimes struggle to play in front of the home crowd and have in the past, but I mean not over the last few days. I just played lovely”.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood finished runner-up for the second time in as many seasons at a major championship. Fleetwood finished second to Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open in 2018. Koepka, winner of four of the previous eight major championships, finished in a tie for fourth place and was bested by just one other American, Tony Finau, who finished in solo third. Koepka completed his 2019 major championship season with top-five or better finishes in all four events.
The Open served as golf’s final major championship of the 2019 season. In eight months, the 2020 major championship season will begin, as it always does, in Augusta, Georgia – where Tiger Woods will serve as the defending champion. Woods missed the cut at Royal Portrush, where afterwards he expressed his desire “to go home”.
The FedExCup Playoffs, of which Tiger Woods is also the defending champion, will conclude the 2018-2019 PGA TOUR season in August.