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Cameron Smith and Open field struggle in Lowry's wake

A late double-bogey would prove costly (Photo: Getty Images / Francois Nel)
Cameron Smith might now be playing but a supporting role to the main act, Shane Lowry, at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush but he has flown the Australian flag well over the opening three days of the Open Championship and heads into tomorrow’s final round with a chance of recording a third top-five finish in three of the four major championships.

Smith finished 4th at the 2015 US Open and 5th at the 2018 Masters and another high finish in such contrasting major championships will add further to his growing reputation as a player capable of playing well anywhere.

Smith is in a share of 12th place and while ten shots from the leader he is just three shots out of 3rd place and given his two previous finishes in the Open Championship this week has already shown a huge improvement.

Smith began with the almost compulsory birdie at the par 5 2nd hole but immediately bogeyed the third and while unable to take advantage of the relatively benign conditions through the opening 12 holes he entered calculations when he eagled the 12th and birdied the 13th and was at that point within four of the lead.

He would then double-bogey the 14th and that, coupled with Lowry’s whirlwind closing nine of 30, opened the gap between the Queenslander and the lead but he remains alive for a big day tomorrow to secure a high finish.

The leader, however, is on another level to all in this week’s field, at this stage at least. The 32-year old who owns just four top tens in 26 majors to date has his greatest opportunity to change all that in the most dramatic fashion.

Lowry's round of 63 has him ahead by four over England’s Tommy Fleetwood who in turn is two shots ahead of J.B. Holmes and, while such a lead can be an awkward one, the Championship now appears Lowry’s to either win or lose. He is the only player in the field who can now say that.

There is little doubting that support from the partisan Irish crowd will play its part tomorrow. While Lowry hails from across the border in the Republic of Ireland, those in the north have embraced him as one of their own and he felt it today.

“Honestly, that's the most incredible day I've ever had on the golf course,” he would say after his round. “I honestly can't explain what it was like.

“I suppose the only way I can describe it is, I said to Bo (caddie) walking off the 17th tee, We might never have a day like this on the golf course again.  So let's enjoy this next half hour. You know what I mean?  And that's what I did.  The crowd was incredible.  I just can't believe what it was like.

“I thought I dealt with it very well today. Honestly, walking from the green to the next tee, the people are literally a yard away from you roaring in your face as loud as they can. If you have to get up and hit a drive down a tight fairway, it's fairly difficult.

“I know tomorrow is going to be a difficult day. I know there's some bad weather coming in. But, look, I'm in a good position and I just have to do what I've been doing all year and hit the reset button tonight and go out there and shoot as good a score as I can tomorrow.

“Hopefully that's good enough tomorrow evening.”

Fleetwood has developed into a big event player despite an ordinary record in this particular event and, while not yet with a major to his name, tomorrow provides a great opportunity to chase down his playing partner and elevate his status to the elite of the game.

Fleetwood’s bogey-free round of 66 might have been good enough to give him the lead in any other situation but against the tearaway Lowry he actually lost ground.

His runner-up finish at the 2018 US Open and a 4th place finish a year earlier highlight his capacity to handle the big-time but, given the importance of this event as a British golfer, tomorrow carries even greater significance.

“The atmosphere for us as golfers was just great," said Fleetwood. “I loved it. For or against you, you can't help but appreciate and love what today was and what tomorrow is going to be.

“Ryder Cup is pretty much that with a few more people. And I think I've just been saying on the way down here, I think people watching today, if they're not into golf, I think it's amazing for the sport. 

“I think the tournament has done itself proud today.  They've shown how great the game is and how good it is to watch.

“Tomorrow is not going to be any quieter.  And for sure tomorrow playing with Shane, last day, that going to have its -- it's going to be more challenging to control yourself in the atmosphere and being in the middle of that.  But that's what we're here for.”

Tied for 4th and seven shots from the lead but perhaps not yet without a chance of victory are Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood but they will need something very special themselves and some help from the leader who does not appear keen to help their cause.

Tomorrow’s weather is likely to play a big part in the outcome and adds further intrigue to what is already promising to be a fascinating and emotional day.

Strong winds and rain are predicted as the day progresses and to counter this as much as possible the R&A have made the decision to bring tee times forward two hours.

 

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