The silhouettes might be similar but Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke cut distinctly different figures as they trooped off the 18th after another gruelling battle with the Old Course.

Clarke failed to live up to the promise of the majestic 70 he carded in the wind-delayed second round by fading to a bitterly disappointing 77. US Open champion McDowell fell victim to the 17th as he slumped to a 76. But 22-year old Irish Open champion Lowry puffed out his chest after a coming of age performance.

Just over a year after turning professional, the burly Offaly man carded a one under par 71 alongside Vijay Singh, outscoring the big Fijian by five strokes, to go into the final round of his major championship debut a stroke better than 14-time major champion Tiger Woods on four under par.

Who knows that dreams he can realise in the final round but after winning at Baltray last year, Lowry dares to dream of the kind of mesmeric performance that Irish fans have come to expect from the likes of Rory McIlroy.

“There is a good round in me,” said Lowry, who started with 11 straight pars before mixing birdies at the 12th and 18th with a solitary bogey at the tough 16th. “Am I thinking of challenging? You never know what can happen in a major championship.”

Grinning mischievously, he added: “If I get one of my runs going, you never know, you never know. I’m just happy that I have picked a great week to play well because I am just trying to treat it like another tournament. But the job isn’t done yet. If I can break 70 or shoot anything under par tomorrow I will be proud of myself. I feel unbelievably comfortable out there.”

One of 30 players forced to return at 6.30am to finish his second round, Clarke played them in level par for a 70 that left him brilliantly placed on four under par.

A visit to the Road Hole bunker cost him a shot but he birdied the last and headed back to bed for a few hours before joining Woods on the practice putting green shortly before three pm.

The pair fell around the place as Clarke shared some tour gossip, the content of which Clarke refused to reveal, but there was little to laugh about after a 77 that started with the first of three three-putts on the opening hole and more or less ended with ugly triple bogey seven at the Road Hole, where he drove out of bounds.

“I didn’t play particularly well and putted poorly on top of it,” Clarke said as another chance to win the Open vanished on the southwest wind. “Then on 17 I thought my tee shot was good. Obviously not. It was out of bounds when I thought it was perfect. I just got it wrong. At that stage I wasn’t trying to mess about and make pars. I wanted to finish with a couple of birdies, but c’est la vie.”

He birdied the last but it was little consolation at the end of a long day.

“I was up at twenty past four but that wasn’t a factor in the slightest,” Clarke said. “I don’t do excuses. Obviously with the way I have been playing, I didn’t want to go out and do that today.

“That was particularly disappointing. But I just didn’t hit it the way I have been hitting it and didn’t putt any good either. The weather was too good.”

US Open champion McDowell was never comfortable all day and finished in the pack on one-under par after a 76 that featured three birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey six at the 17th.

“The rough on the left of the 17th is borderline unfair,” said McDowell, who took two shots to extricate himself from the hay there and three-putted from the front of the green for a morale-sapping finish to his round.