First there was Rory McIlroy, but he was spectacularly unseated at the first. Next there was Darren Clarke, but he met a similarly ugly finish at the halfway mark. And yes, Graeme McDowell is still chugging along nicely as the finish comes into view but just about all local eyes – and undoubtedly their voices – were aimed squarely on Saturday at one unlikely hero.
Shane Lowry, a bearded 32-year-old golfer who, on the most inspired afternoon of his life, sent 45,000 people inside Royal Portrush into delirious celebration.
Even as he approached the first tee, the reaction already felt like something akin to a Ryder Cup crowd. By the time that he had left the 18th, following an extraordinary round of 63, Lowry could have been forgiven for thinking that he was inside a football stadium.
The earlier, still thundering, soundtrack of, “Go on Shane! Go Lowry! C’mon Big Shane!” had simply evolved into one glorious chant of, “Olé, Olé, Olé”. And it was still booming out all across Royal Portrush a good 20 minutes after he had left the green.
The only brief moments of diversion had come with the hushed silence whenever he addressed the ball and then the thunderous roars and standing ovations that greeted birdies on three, five, nine, 10 and 12 before a gloriously inspired hat-trick through holes 15 to 17.