God knows how many pints of Guinness have been necked in Portrush this week. Those who’ve been in the Harbour Bar until the wee small hours, though, will have become familiar with a certain phrase: hair of the dog. If the hangover hurts, just drink it away; do what you did the day before.
It was something like that which happened in the Open Championship on Saturday. Following the magical conclusion to the first 36 holes, where Rory McIlroy let the mask slip and at last came sailing home to Northern Ireland, what else could we do but wake up, try to piece together what happened the night before, and just keep on drinking.
Shane Lowry picked up the pieces left behind by McIlroy, and he whipped them into one of the most remarkable rounds of golf you will see. It was an afternoon so hazy and warm it almost didn’t feel real. For once, golf passed by in a flash. It’s funny how much quicker it is when you don’t hit the ball as often.
Well before eight o’clock, half an hour before the rain came, the Irishman arrived on the 18th green with a putt for just the second ever 62 in major championship history. He settled for one of the many 63s, a round of golf which was the best of the day by two and, significantly, gave him a lead of four over Tommy Fleetwood.
Rounds of 68, 67 and 66 would have Fleetwood leading just about any tournament, and should have him leading this one. But he’s in a distant second, because on Saturday he bumped into a higher power, as this buzzing crowd carried their man – and make no mistake, he is their man – to the clubhouse.
Along the way, Lowry was allowed down to earth to sprinkle magic dust all over this links turf which he twice conquered as an amateur. He threw an approach shot to kick-in range at the third, chipped it close at the fifth, holed a nice putt on the ninth. It was serene progress on an afternoon of unexpected calm.
No doubt, Lowry had the weather on his side and he led a charmed life at the start of the back-nine. At the 10th, some clear thinking helped extricate him from a tricky spot for an eventual birdie which jabbed at the ribs of J.B. Holmes. At the 14th, Lowry’s drive was so low and so short that it struck a spectator, before falling to the ground and landing softly on a bed of sideways grass.
Sensing the moment, Lowry holed a 15-foot putt at the 15th, bent Calamity Corner to his will for another at the 16th, and went from A to B to C for the simplest three at the 17th. Suddenly he was away and gone and it made no difference to the final analysis that his final putt was half a roll short.
If it all seems too perfect to be quite believable, that’s because it was. One marshal said he'd never heard noise like it - and he's been doing this gig for 15 years. The roars which met Lowry down the 18th made the spine tingle and he'll do well to get some rest before attempting to do this again, to extend this session into the small hours of Sunday.
This tournament still threatens to become very real, very quickly, with weather so fearsome that tee-times have been brought forward. At least Lowry, who overcame wind and rain to win the Irish Open as an amateur a decade ago, won’t have quite as long to dwell on the seriousness of the situation.
There is work still to be done. Lowry has a four-shot lead over Fleetwood, a six-shot lead over Holmes, and a seven-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose, but the battle has barely started. And he knows that a four-shot lead is not a safe one: he was in fact the last man to fail to convert from this position in a major, at the 2016 US Open.
Lowry, though, has never been better, and there must be every chance he goes on to complete a spectacular week in Portrush. He might not be from round here, but he is a regular visitor, he loves the golf course, and there’s no doubt that Saturday’s support came from both sides of the border.
Well sometimes this life is like being afloat
On a raging sea in a little row-boat
Just trying not to be washed overboard
But if you take your chances and you ride your luck
And you never, never, never, never, never give up
Those waves will see you safely to a friendly shore
If Lowry can live this Charmed Life for one day more, he will become the Champion Golfer of the Year, and Portrush may never get rid of the hangover. Go on ye good thing.