PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (AP) — Only one player can realistically prevent the biggest golfing party ever seen on the Emerald Isle from exploding into life at Royal Portrush on Sunday.
Tommy Fleetwood is ready for the challenge.
“I know what it’s going to be like,” said Fleetwood, who will start the final round of the British Open in the last group for the first time in a major, four shots behind Ireland’s Shane Lowry. “I’ve had my fair share of support for the first three days. Hopefully there will still be some people out there rooting for me.”
Fleetwood — easily identifiable because of his flowing locks and rock-star looks — is one of the nice guys in golf, hugely popular in Europe and increasingly across the Atlantic.
It will be one of the few occasions he’ll be playing the role of spoiler.
“It’s going to be another chapter in my career, no matter what happens,” Fleetwood said. “And it’s going to be a very special day.”
Fleetwood’s post-round comments were nearly drowned out by chants of “Olé, olé, olé” from jubilant fans walking away from the grandstand at the 18th hole after seeing Lowry complete his tournament-best 63.
On a remarkable day on the Dunluce Links, Lowry was serenaded with soccer-style songs in the kind of backdrop usually reserved for Ryder Cups.
Fleetwood, playing the next-to-last group ahead of Lowry, was swept along in the atmosphere. He didn’t do too bad himself.
A bogey-free 66 tied for the third-best round of the day — only Lowry and Danny Willett (65) shot better — and the fifth-best round of the week. So the 28-year-old Fleetwood, looking to win the first major of his career, wasn’t about to beat himself up about seeing a one-shot deficit to Lowry grow to four.
“You can easily get frustrated because Shane is doing so well and how well he’s playing,” Fleetwood said. “But … you have to look at it realistically. I had a great day today.”
It started with a mid-range birdie at No. 1 that briefly had him in a tie for the lead at 8 under. He tapped in to pick up another shot at No. 4, before birdies at Nos. 7, 10 and 12 moved him into a share of the lead on each occasion.
The putts didn’t drop down the stretch, though, as he parred his way home. Meanwhile, Lowry birdied four of his last seven holes to pull away.
“Tommy’s playing very well,” said Lee Westwood, another Englishman and Fleetwood’s playing partner on Saturday. “He’s got his ball under control. If he’d had holed a few putts today, he’d have shot a really low score.”
Indeed, Fleetwood did little wrong, hitting all but two greens in regulation and barely getting into any trouble.
He just didn’t play quite as well as Lowry.
“I think the tournament has done itself proud today,” said Fleetwood, whose best finish in a major was tied for second place — a shot behind Brooks Koepka — at last year’s U.S. Open. “They’ve shown how great the game is and how good it is to watch.
“The atmosphere for us as golfers was just great. 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.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80