Shane Lowry, J.B. Holmes share British Open lead as Rory McIlroy leaves with cheers

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Everyone in the massive grandstand rose to cheer and celebrate a bold performance by Rory McIlroy, who longed for such support and affection on his walk toward his final hole at Royal Portrush in the British Open. Except this was Friday.

And now McIlroy can only watch on the weekend as one of his best friends, Shane Lowry of Ireland, goes after the claret jug. Lowry birdied four of his opening five holes on his way to a 4-under-par 67 and shared the 36-hole lead with American J.B. Holmes, who had a 68.

Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood were one shot behind. Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth were three back.

That can wait.

This day was all about McIlroy, who kept the sellout crowd on edge as he tried to make the cut an opening 79. The roars had the intensity of a final round as McIlroy ran off five birdies in seven holes to brighten a gloomy sky over the North Atlantic. Needing one last birdie, his approach took a wrong turn along the humps left of the 18th green. He made par for a 65.

“It’s a moment I envisaged for the last few years,” McIlroy said. “It just happened two days early.”

He was disappointed. He was proud. Mostly, though, he said he was “full of gratitude toward every single one of the people that followed me to the very end and was willing me on.”

“As much as I came here at the start of the week saying I wanted to do it for me, by the end of the round there today I was doing it just as much for them,” he said.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won’t be around, either. It was the first time in 77 majors they have played as pros that both missed the cut in the same major. Darren Clarke, who honed his game on the Dunluce Links as a junior and now calls Portrush home, missed the cut in a most cruel fashion with a triple bogey on his final hole.

And now the first British Open in Northern Ireland since 1951 moves on without them, still with the feel of a classic.

Lowry was so nervous he was shaking on the tee when the tournament began Thursday, swept up in the emotion of an Open on the Emerald Isle, and on a course he knows. He gave fans plenty to cheer when he opened his second round with three birdies, added a birdie on the fifth and holed a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 10 to reach 10- under, making him the only player this week to reach double figures under par.

The cheers were as loud as he has ever heard. “Just incredible,” Lowry said. “You can’t but smile, but can’t but laugh how it is. There’s no point trying to shy away from it. It’s an incredible feeling getting applauded on every green, every tee box. I’m out there giving my best, trying to do my best for everyone.”

He three-putted the 14th, saved par on the next three holes with his deft touch around the greens, and closed with a bogey to fall back into a tie with Holmes, who played earlier in the day and was the first to post at 8-under 134.

Graeme McDowell, born and raised in Portrush, played well enough to make the weekend. He finished with four consecutive pars for a 70 to make the cut on the number at 1-over 143.

Woods began this major championship season as the Masters champion, ended it as a mystery. He missed the cut in two of the next three majors, and never seemed fully fit or engaged at the British Open.

“I’m going to have my hot weeks. I’m going to be there in contention with a chance to win, and I will win tournaments,” Woods said. “But there are times when I’m just not going to be there.”

Doug Ferguson is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/golf/article/Shane-Lowry-J-B-Holmes-share-British-Open-lead-14109910.php.

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