Low expectations can sometimes help a player and they certainly worked for Shane Lowry who shot a course record equalling 64 at Carnoustie to move into contention for a win that could catapult him into the world’s top 50.
He’s just two strokes behind leader Peter Uihlein and tied for second with Martin Kaymer, Richard McEvoy, David Howell, Ernie Els and Joost Luiten on 18 under par in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and after an eagle two and seven birdies, not even a dropped shot at his final hole could take the gloss off a sensational performance.
On a day when a resurgent Pádraig Harrington followed his 66 at Kingsbarns with a 64 at St Andrews to banish the demons of that opening 76 at Carnoustie and make the cut by two strokes, Lowry cruised into contention for a win that could see him jump from 84th to 48th in the world.
“Anything under par in Carnoustie is usually good but eight under is particularly good,” Lowry said with a grin, moments after alighting from the chopper that ferried him from Carnoustie to St Andrews.
“I got a few breaks today and holed a few putts hit some good shots. I’m delighted with it. I was playing with Richard Green today and he’s shot some great scores at Carnoustie. I didn’t know exactly what the course record was but he told me in the scorer’s afterwards it was 64. I hit a great putt on the ninth [his 18th] and that’s all I could have done. A 64 - I’m delighted with that.”
Starting on the back nine, Lowry birdied four holes in a row from the 12th before the highlight of an eagle two at the 17th, his eighth hole of the day.
“It’s probably one of the toughest holes on the course even though it is just a four-iron off the tee and a five iron into the green,” Lowry said after a round that featured just 25 putts. “I had a good number for a five-iron, just hit a good shot straight at the flag and somehow it went in.
“That’s the bit of luck that you need and I was delighted with it. Scoring is red-hot this week and I knew I needed to shoot a decent score today to have half a chance.
“I didn’t think I was going to shoot eight under at all today. I thought if I could get to 15 under, I would be doing well.
“But I am within two of the lead, tied second going in tomorrow. It’s where I want to be an hopefully I can get off to a decent start, hit one shot at a time and see where it leaves me at the end of the round.”
A closing eagle at St Andrews capped another dream for Uihlein and put the American in line to claim the biggest prize of his fledgling career.
On a glorious day at the ‘Home of Golf’, Uihlein – who came within a whisker of shooting the first 59 in European Tour history at Kingsbarns on the second day of the US$5 million event – continued his superb form with a round of 65 to move to 20 under par and open up a two-shot lead on the field.
The high-class chasing pack on 18 under par includes major champions Els (64) and Kaymer (63), recent KLM Open champion Joost Luiten of the Netherlands (68) and Lowry, whose 64 at Carnoustie was arguably the round of the day.
But it is Uihlein they all have to catch after the Madeira Islands Open winner thoroughly enjoyed his maiden competitive round at St Andrews, which he labelled “the best course I’ve ever played”.
Uihlein, who pitched straight in from 47 yards at the last, added: “The Old Course is awesome, it was so much fun to play. We got lucky with the weather and with the wind not blowing, so it was just an absolute joy.
“I’ve played here a few times before but never in competition, and I always seem to play pretty well here. I just feel comfortable, and I love the imaginative side of links golf and how creative you have to be. I just love playing golf out here, and I can’t wait to tee it up again tomorrow.”
Lowry added: “I played good all day. Obviously you need a little bit of luck like I did on 17, but I played good all day. Putted nicely which was key. Holed a lovely 8‑footer for par on the first which kind of got me going and never looked back from there.
“Even the putt I had on the ninth green for a 63, it looked to me all the way it was in. It was one of those days that I felt very comfortable out there, and the game kind of came easy to me.”
Harrington needed a 66 just to make the cut but went two better on the Old Course in his round with Vijay Singh.
He made six birdies on the front nine to go to the turn in 30, birdied the 10th and then followed a bogey at the 12th with further birdies at the 15th and 18th to share 42nd spot on 10 under.
Darren Clarke (66) and Michael Hoey (65) are tied for 15th place on 15 under after their rounds at St Andrews with Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley joint 35th on 11 under after a 67.
As for the rest of the Irish, Gareth Maybin (71 at Carnoustie) and Simon Thornton (69/Carnoustie) missed the nine under par cut by a stroke with Damien McGrane two outside after a 69 at St Andrews.
Peter Lawrie had a bogey free 69 at the Home of Golf but missed his fifth cut in a row and his seventh in his last eight starts.
At 109th in the Race to Dubai, the Dublin is now likely to fall out of the top 110 who keep their cards with just two regular season events remaining after this week.
David Higgins, who is 111th in the money list, also missed the cut when he finished well down the leaderboard on one over par after a 74 at Carnoustie.
In the Pro-Am event, Richard McEvoy and Michael Zamkow lead by five shots on 36 under par with Lowry and Gerry McManus in solo fourth on 30 under after rounds of 63, 62 and 61.
McGinley and actor Kyle MacLachlan are 12th on 26 under with Clarke and Selwyn Nathan a shot further back.
The rest of the Irish pro-0am team missed the cut for the top 20 with Harrington and JP McManus six shots outside the mark on 19 under after rounds of 73, 64 and 60.