Shane Lowry is like a kid in a sweet shop at Chambers Bay and while he has just two wins on his CV and only one as a professional, he can give himself a shot at golfing immortality on Sunday.
A level par 70 in the toughest conditions of the week is testament to this 28-year old’s ability to win a US Open from three strokes behind a quartet of co-leaders in the amazing, vertigo stricken Jason Day (68), the laconic and powerful Dustin Johnson (70), the precociously brilliant Masters champion Jordan Spieth (71) and the ball-striking phenom that is South Africa Branden Grace (70).
"It's so tough out there anything can happen in the space of one hole, Lowry said. "You just have to stay patient. The one thing I have to do is put myself into position with nine holes to go and we'll see what happens then."
Lowry might be tied for fifth with Louis Oosthuizen (66), Aussie surprise package Cameron Smith (69) and J.B. Holmes (71) but he’s got just four names ahead of him and all four are eminently beatable, especially over the “links” of Chambers Bay.
If plays as he did on Saturday — just one fairway and only six greens missed — the pride of Co Offaly showed that he has the short game and the putting stroke to stick around until the last nine holes.
Sure, he made two bogeys coming in and missed some birdie chances. But he also holed some clutch putts and hit so many quality iron shots that he might have finish the day a shot or two closer to the lead.
Lowry was so focussed on the job in hand that he hardly noticed that Johnson had double bogeyed the 13th and to come back from six under to four or that Spieth had back pedalled from seven under early on.
“I looked up, I thought I was a little bit farther behind than I am,” Lowry said. “I thought the leader was maybe five or six and I looked up and Dustin was 4. Yeah, I'm in a decent position going into tomorrow.”
If Chambers Bay was a high diving competition, the technical difficulty element would be sky high, as Lowry explained when describing his bogey at the 14th, where he pitched pin high, ran through the back and bogeyed to go back to one under for the round having followed an early bogey at the second with brilliant birdies at the sixth, ninth and 10th.
"I had 210 yards to the flag and 180 yards to the front,” he said of the 534-yard, par-four 14th. “I hit my 7-iron 180 yards, and it just went over the green. It was into the wind as well. I had no club to hit the green. You're just praying that you're hitting greens.
“You're just standing there trying to hit good shots. That's what I've done the last few days. To be honest, I feel very in control of my game and my iron play has been quite good this week. I'm just hoping to hold up for one more day.”
- 9:24 PM Kevin Kisner (+2), Alexander Levy (+2)
- 9:36 PM Matt Kuchar (+2) Charl Schwartzel (+2)
- 9:48 PM Patrick Reed (+1), Joost Luiten (+1)
- 10:00 PM Tony Finau (+1), Henrik Stenson (+1)
- 10:12 PM Andres Romero (+1), Brandt Snedeker (+1)
- 10:24 PM J.B Holmes (-1), Shane Lowry (-1)
- 10:36 PM Cameron Smith (-1), Louis Oosthuizen (-1)
- 10:48 PM Jordan Spieth (-4), Branden Grace (-4)
- 11:00 PM Dustin Johnson (-4), Jason Day (-4)
Lowry had a chance to birdie the par three 15th, which was playing at 252 yards, after a stunning tee shot rolled back off the back stop to eight feet.
But he missed the putt, hit a bad drive at the next and made bogey and then did well not to three putt the 17th after coming up 10 feet short with his approach putt.
He’s clearly loving the experience, despite missing an eight footer for birdie at the 18th. And he admitted he’s excited and loving the occasion.
"Yeah, I am. I said to my caddie coming up the last, it's probably one of the most enjoyable days I've had at a golf course in a while.
“Being in contention in a tournament like this, what more do you want. It's great. I'm excited about tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it.
“I’ll definitely sleep after that round today. I'll get up and just chill out in the morning. A nice late tee time tomorrow is something that what you want.”
As for the golf course, he admits it’s tough but he’s happy to take things as they come and remain positive.
"It's tough. It's very tough. But I think it's playable,” he said. “I think it's been getting a lot of stick. The greens are not the best surfaces, but if you hit a good putt nine times out of ten it goes in. Sometimes you hit a good putt and it misses. That's the thing a lot of players are focusing on.
“Yeah, it's very tough. It's tough to hit greens. But at the end of the day it's a U.S. Open. Like, the leader is 4-under. A U.S. Open is not normally like that. I don't know what was in the top 10 last year at Pinehurst, but in my opinion, Pinehurst is on a similar scale to this, and hard, as well.
“If you miss the green at Pinehurst you couldn't chip. It was designed -- you're supposed to be able to chip with the grain on the grass. I think that was a little more unfair than this is. So, yeah, I think the course, fair enough, the greens are not a hundred percent, but the golf course is still a good golf course.”
Asked what it might mean to clinch the title, Lowry said: "I don't know. I don't know. It would obviously mean everything.
“So, yeah, I'm going to go out there and give it a hundred percent tomorrow and what happens will happen. What will be, will be.
“I think if I played the way I played today I should have a chance coming down the last few holes.”
Of the top 8, only Spieth and Oosthuizen have won majors and while there are 20 players within seven strokes of the leading quartet, it’s difficult to see many of them getting to one or two under par.
Patrick Reed was gutted to shoot 76 to fall back to one over par and predicted he will need to shoot a 63 or 64 to have a chance.
“Five shots back. If it stays firmer, faster, and the win blows, I have a chance,” Reed said. “I have to go really low. I don't see all the guys that are ahead of me going and shooting over par. They might shoot even, 1-under, 2-under, I'm going to have to shoot 6 or 7 for me to realistically have a shot.”
Knowing the USGA’s penchant for a low winning score, a betting man might be inclined to think more conservatively.
Lowry will have to play the round of his life to win but at 28 he’s got the skills and the heart to do it.