Shane Lowry confessed that he has been visualising himself lifting the US Open trophy to the Pittsburgh sky after he holed a crucial 11 footer for par at the 18th for a five under 65 and a four-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson and Andrew Landry heading into this afternoon’s final round at Oakmont.
Resuming his delayed third round on the 519-yard 15th, the third hardest hole on the course all week, the pride of Clara hit what he said was his best drive of the week, then fired a 159-yard nine iron to 12 feet and rolled in the double breaking putt for birdie.
Short on the apron at the par-three 16th, Lowry putted up dead for par, then found heavy rough at the 17th when his three wood failed to carry the bunkers on the elbow of the 313-yard par-four.
A magician all week with his wedges (as well as his driver, his irons and hit putter, it’s fair to say), he hit a lovely second to four feet to set up an easy birdie.
Between clubs at the last and fearful of going long, he found the front of the green but faced a treacherous 50 footer that came up 11 feet short.
A three putt would have given the chasing bunch some heart but Lowry calmly rolled home the putt and fist pumped in delight, retrieved the ball and fist pumped again as he turned away.
“It’s definitely up there. It’s probably the best round of my career,” said Lowry, who has dressed in the Clara colours of black and white all week and plans to do so again alongside Landry in the final threeball.
“To come back out this morning and get two birdies is huge. If you would have given me four pars, I would have stayed in bed. I just kept on this morning where I left off last night. I hit a great drive on 15, great second shot and rolled in the putt.
“To make two birdies to have this lead going into the final round, there’s no place you’d rather be other than here."
Sports psychologists often advise athletes to picture themselves winning rather than block out that natural emption and when asked if he had visualised himself lifting the trophy, just as Padraig Harrington did before the final round at Carnoustie in the 2007 Open Championship, he said: “I have, yeah.”
In a separate interview with US TV, he said: "It's going to be tough. I mean, let's be honest, I've already visualised myself winning. Even out walking around the course this morning, when you get a few moments to yourself, you do think about that.
“But when it comes down to it, you've just have to get the shot that's in front of you. So I've let myself do that sometimes. Sometimes it's not the worst thing. Sometimes when you try too hard not to think about something, that's the only thing you can think about.
“So I just let myself think about it. Then when I need to, I just get back to the job at hand.”
If Lowry hits as many clutch shots alongside Landry evening as he hit in the four holes he played with Sergio Garcia and Gregory Bourdy this morning, he will be tough to catch.
While Johnson and Landry are four behind, Lee Westwood and Daniel Summerhays are five behind, Branden Grace is six back and Garcia and Scott Piercy seven adrift.
“That drive on 15 was a shot to get right,” Lowry said. “It is a tough hole – there’s rough on the right and there’s bunkers down the left and you can get in trouble.
“I knew that was a big tee shot and I stood up and hit the best drive of the week. Sergio is not short by any means and I knocked it past him. The hole is nearly 500 yards and I was only going in with a nine iron so it was probably the best shot I’ve hit all week.
“(The putt) It was important. It settled me down an awful lot. The greens are perfect this morning, It was up the hill, a double breaker but it was a straightforward putt. It was nice to hole it and nice to get off to that start and then birdie 17 as well.
“To save par on the last was massive. We were in between clubs on the fairway and you can’t go over that green so we erred on the side of caution. We came up five yards shorter than I would like and left myself a tricky putt.
“It was a great putt to hole and you’ve seen I was pretty happy there. I gave a nice little fist pump and gave myself a bit of momentum going into the final round.”
On what happens now, he said: “I’ve just got to go out and play my own game. No matter what happens, I just have to get up and play the next shot. I’m sure there are going to be little twists in the tale this afternoon, I will be expecting that, and we will just have to see how it goes.
“A few shot lead is obviously nice, but I’ll just have to go out and shoot the best score I can and see where that leaves me on the 18th green. If that’s good enough, I’ll be quite happy.
“I feel good. I’ll go back to the house now, have a second breakfast and chill out. I think there is a GAA game on TV so I get to watch a bit of that before the final round.
“I’m very excited. Where in the world would you rather be than here. I’m looking forward to the final round and looking forward to what could happen. I let myself think about what could happen today, you know this could be a very special day. But when it comes back down to it, I’ll justhave to get back down to business and see what happens.”
Reflecting on the last 24 hours, he said: “Obviously yesterday went well for me so I needed this morning to kind of build on it, keep going. To be honest, I probably would have taken four pars. But two birdies is really nice. Hit the ball lovely again this morning and, you know, it's nice.”
Seve Ballesteros was called Steve my mischievous US fans but Lowry simply gets confused in the heads of some US commentators with American Steve Lowery or bearded Englishman Andrew Johnston.
“They’re’ beginning to know me a bit over here so hopefully by this evening they will all know me,” he said. “They’ve mixed me up with Andrew Johnston quite a lot this week. I don’t think his beard is as good as mine. They like called me Steve as well over here. Hopefully by this evening, they’ll know me.”
US Open, Oakmont CC (Par 70)
1 Shane Lowry -7 3:30 p 68 70 65 203
T2 Andrew Landry -3 3:30 p 66 71 70 207
T2 Dustin Johnson -3 3:20 p 67 69 71 207
T4 Lee Westwood -2 3:20 p 67 72 69 208
T4 Daniel Summerhays -2 3:10 p 74 65 69 208
6 Branden Grace -1 3:10 p 73 70 66 209
T7 Sergio Garcia E 3:00 p 68 70 72 210
T7 Scott Piercy E 3:00 p 68 70 72 210
T9 Jason Day +1 2:50 p 76 69 66 211
T9 Bryson DeChambeau +1 2:50 p 71 70 70 211
T9 Zach Johnson +1 2:40 p 71 69 71 211
T12 Kevin Streelman +2 2:40 p 69 74 69 212
T12 Kevin Na +2 2:30 p 75 68 69 212
T12 Jason Dufner +2 2:30 p 73 71 68 212
T12 Daniel Berger +2 2:20 p 70 72 70 212
T12 Korea Flag Sung Kang +2 2:20 p 70 72 70 212
T12 Derek Fathauer +2 2:10 p 73 69 70 212
T12 Brendan Steele +2 2:10 p 71 71 70 212
T12 Adam Scott +2 2:00 p 71 69 72 212
T12 Billy Horschel +2 2:00 p 72 74 66 212