Shane Lowry celebrates after making his putt on 18th green to finish his round. Ben Brady/INPHO

Irish Open: Drama at its finest as Lowry rises like Lazarus

It was a thrilling finish for the Offaly man at Mount Juliet.

IT FELT LIKE a Sunday around the 18th green at Mount Juliet. The crowds were packed deep, everyone watching intently as Shane Lowry hit his approach, as if the destination of the trophy rested on this one shot.

From the jaws of elimination to the brink of salvation, Lowry had clawed back a seemingly impossible deficit over his previous three holes with three consecutive birdies, taking him from one-over to two-under with one hole to go in the second round of the Horizon Irish Open.

With the cut sitting at two-under at the time – it would eventually end there – this was make-or-break. One more birdie and he could safely prepare for the third round. A par would leave him with a nervy wait. Bogey, and he was done.

The strike was good, an 8-iron from 180 yards to 18 feet for birdie, and the crowd erupted as if he had just won the entire thing rather than the reality of the situation, which was it set up a putt just to make the weekend.

“I haven’t seen a reaction like that on a Friday in tournament golf as long as I have played,” marvelled Séamus Power, his playing partner.

Lowry still had to make the putt, one which turned sharply at the end of its journey back towards the water. The contact was pure, if a little hard, but the line was perfect and the result was the one he was looking for.

Lowry turned to the crowd with a smile on his face and saluted them with an enormous fist-pump. The crowd responded in kind, throwing their hands in the air and roaring in delight. It deserved to be for a victory but, in many ways for Lowry, it may be one given the devastation he would have felt if he missed the cut at his home Open.

Indeed, what was actually only a two-under 70 only took him up to three-under-par and into the final two rounds with a shot to spare. Eight shots back of leader Jorge Campillo, the likelihood is he’s not mounting a challenge on Sunday for the title, as much as that would send the crowd into raptures.

But for the sheer drama of it all, this was the Irish Open at its finest. One of its beloved sons, the 2009 winner as an amateur, seemingly dead and buried with four holes to play, rising from the grave like Lazarus with a finish for the ages that had the patrons heading home leaping and rejoicing.

In fact, in many ways it took away somewhat from what, for a long time, looked to be the only story of their group, Power braving the elements that dogged the afternoon wave of starters for a second consecutive four-under 68 that has him at eight-under-par and just three shots adrift of Campillo, tied for fourth.

The West Waterford man is playing in front of his home crowd with expectation on his shoulders for the first time and he’s thriving under it. His own 8-iron from 175 yards on the last to set up a birdie of his own was arguably even better than Lowry’s, but it wasn’t accompanied by quite the same fanfare.

His crowning moment was a glorious fairway bunker shot from 250 yards on the par-five 10th, landing in the middle of the green and leading to a tap-in birdie. The wind and rain might have been howling around him, but it was Power to kept his nerve in the storm.

It will be he who will command most of the attention over the weekend, too. A rather lacklustre leaderboard was crying out for a local player to put himself in the mix heading into the final two rounds, and the 35-year-old provided it with seven birdies and three bogeys, and he will be locked in as the bookies’ favourite.

And yet, for the lack of star power above and around him, there is experience in there, too.

Campillo, the shock leader at 11-under-par despite being 350th in the world rankings, is a two-time DP World Tour winner and has barely put a foot wrong over the first two rounds. Granted, he had the luck of the draw on his side on Friday as he finished his four-under 68 just before a deluge of rain fell on Thomastown, but his play has been admirable.

So, too, has Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, who also has two wins under his belt even if his last came in 2017, and he’s only one shot back after a 68 of his own took him to 10-under-par. Alongside him on the same score, Poland’s Adrian Meronk has yet to break his duck, but has six top-six finishes this season alone.

And after scraping in by the skin of his teeth, would you put it past Lowry making a Saturday run and putting himself in the mix going into Sunday?

It would have to be something very special to beat Friday’s drama. But then this tournament just loves to deliver.

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