Shane Lowry saw his Open Championship lead cut to three as Tommy Fleetwood closed the gap on a day when high winds and heavy rain are forecast at Royal Portrush.

The Irishman began Sunday's round - brought forward amid fears over the weather - with a four-stroke lead over Fleetwood following his stunning 63 on Saturday, but he dropped a shot at the first to sit on 15 under.

It is the second time Lowry has taken such a margin into the final 18 holes of a major, having done so at the 2016 U.S. Open before closing with a 76 to miss out on the title.

Backed by a noisy crowd, Lowry found the rough with his opening tee shot and then his approach rolled back into a green-front bunker, from which he failed to get up and down.

Fleetwood, who is also seeking a maiden major, could have halved the overnight deficit but missed a 10-foot birdie putt and settled for par to stay 12 under.

The next winner of the Claret Jug appeared highly likely to come from that final duo, but J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose would have started the day with other ideas.

Victory for Holmes or Koepka would complete the first American clean sweep of the majors since 1982, handing the former his first and the latter his fifth.

However, Holmes went out of bounds off the first tee en route to a double-bogey six and Koepka also dropped a shot.

Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner, remained on nine under through his first two holes.

Shane Lowry was due to do battle with the elements as well as the chasing pack in his bid to the win The Open at Royal Portrush on Sunday.

The Irishman produced a breath-taking eight-under 63 on a glorious day of clear skies and sunshine on Saturday to move to 16 under for the tournament, four clear of nearest rival Tommy Fleetwood.

Lowry and Fleetwood were scheduled to begin their final rounds at 1.47pm local time, with tee times brought forward due to the threat of the inclement weather.

As well as the heavy rains forecast on the Dunluce Links, the ominous presence of four-time major winner Brooks Koepka was looming large, albeit the American was seven shots back of the lead.

Koepka was due to play alongside compatriot J.B. Holmes (-10), while Justin Rose (-9) and Rickie Fowler (-8) were set to be in the third from last group.

Among the early starters, several players were showing birdie opportunities are out there - albeit the worst of the predicted weather was yet to hit Portrush.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot a four under, and defending champion Francesco Molinari and Doc Redman were on the same score through 13 and 10 holes respectively.

Brooks Koepka hopes the weather can turn the tide in his favour at The Open after claiming he has "putted the worst in the entire field" at Royal Portrush.

The four-time major winner started the day just three shots back of overnight co-leaders Shane Lowry and J.B. Holmes and there were opportunities to score low on a calm day on the Dunluce Links.

Koepka did manage to shoot a 67, but squandered several opportunities to go even lower and will start Sunday seven shots back of Lowry after the Irishman dazzled with a 63.

While the world number one is happy with how he has struck the ball tee-to-green, his performance on the dancefloor has left him frustrated.

"Nobody has hit it better than me this week. I've hit it as good as I could possibly imagine. I putted the worst in the entire field," he said. "It's very frustrating, I'm disappointed.

"I need to figure out the putter. I just need to putt good one day. So I'm about to go do a whole bunch of work on that putting green and see if I can somehow find confidence, somehow find anything."

The forecasted adverse weather on Sunday has seen tee times brought forward and Koepka is not ready to give up his challenge just yet.

"I need it [the bad weather]. Being seven back. Here you need some wind, you need some rain. You need anything that can kind of go your way. And that's got to be an advantage," he added.

"Especially the way I'm striking the ball. I've struck it so good. If it's going to be windy, you need to be able to strike it good, control your flight, and figure out where you want the ball to end up."

Justin Rose, who played alongside Koepka, is also seven shots back of Lowry.

The 2013 U.S. Open winner is expecting the Irishman to cope well in the forecasted tough conditions, but like Koepka is hoping the weather can do him a favour.

"It [the weather] offers you a little bit more hope than if it was a benign day. Who knows what it might take, it might take 63," he said.

"I'm just projecting Shane is going to have a decent finish here, he's got a great short game, that will stand him in good stead on a tough weather day, he's Irish. If there is a tough-weather-day player, it probably is him. 

"It doesn't make it easy trying to win a major in conditions like that."

Tommy Fleetwood does not expect Shane Lowry or any of the contenders in the final round of The Open to be affected by the wet weather expected to hit Portrush on Sunday.

Fleetwood heads into the last 18 holes in second place as he searches for his first major title. Despite shooting a five-under 66 on Saturday to move to 12 under, he finds himself four strokes behind Ireland's Shane Lowry, who carded an incredible 63.

The Englishman is two clear of J.B. Holmes, with Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose seven off the pace in tied fourth.

Tee times have been brought forward for Sunday because of the anticipated bad weather, but Fleetwood is not expecting any of his rivals to falter in the tricky conditions.

"It's the best golfers in the world. I feel like the guys that are up there on the leaderboard, from what I've seen, are not going to be too fussed about the conditions. It's not like it's an advantage or disadvantage to anyone," Fleetwood said.

"I personally don't mind the conditions, whatever they are. I feel like I've had some of my best rounds in terrible, terrible conditions, where I've enjoyed grinding it out. So we'll see.

"Shane has not played in sunshine and no wind all his life. So it's not going to be a problem for him, either."

Henrik Stenson holds the record for the best 72-hole score in relation to par at an Open Championship, shooting 20 under in 2016, but Fleetwood will not set out to beat that mark as he attempts to overhaul home favourite Lowry.

"Looking at the numbers is like a dangerous game and it's not something I'll be doing," Fleetwood added. "It will be one step at a time, like the usual stuff. And if the weather is really rough, you rule that out and get out of it what you can.

"It will be a very, very good effort if it's me [who wins], and if it's not me or Shane, it will be a very, very good effort for somebody else. For sure, we'll see how it goes.

"It's going to be another chapter in my career, no matter what happens. And it's going to be a very special day."

Holmes went into the weekend in a share of the lead with Lowry, who he expects to endure a difficult day trying to win his first major regardless of the size of his advantage.

"It's tough no matter whether you have a one-shot lead or five-shot lead. It's tough to finish off a major. It's a tough test. So we'll see," said Holmes. "See what he does tomorrow, and I can go out and hopefully put up the number and give him something to look at.

"You never know with the weather, it can be blowing. I don't know. There's a lot of golf left to go. But I put myself in a good position and go out there tomorrow and keep trucking."

Shane Lowry described Saturday's stunning round at an electric Royal Portrush as his "most incredible day" on a golf course as the Irishman took control of the Open Championship.

Lowry's blemish-free 63 means he almost has one hand on the Claret Jug, boasting a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood at the summit.

The crowd in Northern Ireland lent their significant backing to the 32-year-old as he pulled clear of a stacked field of contenders to emerge as the clear favourite for the title.

He closed his round with three birdies from the last four holes and Portrush erupted in joy as he left playing partner and overnight co-leader J.B. Holmes six strokes adrift.

"Honestly, that's the most incredible day I've ever had on the golf course. I honestly can't explain what it was like," said a beaming Lowry.

"I said to Bo [caddie Brian Martin] walking off the 17th tee, 'We might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let's enjoy this next half hour'.

"And that's what I did. The crowd was incredible. I just can't believe what it was like.

"I can imagine it was quite difficult for J.B. to play with that. But I found it OK, anyway."

Lowry has never won a major but he does have experience of holding a four-shot lead going into the last round of one.

He did so at Oakmont in 2016 and shot a 76 on the final day as victory slipped from his grasp, but he claims to have learned from that.

"I said to Bo when I finished, look at the leaderboard, four ahead. I said to Bo, 'At least I won't have to answer any questions about Oakmont, I'm four ahead going into the final round of a major'," Lowry joked.

"Obviously I learned a lot that day. I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont. I'm going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow [Sunday].

"I think I learned a few things that day about playing in the final round of a major with a lead, that you need to just hang in until the very last minute.

"You never know what can happen."

There was little time to stop and take stock on a glorious day at Royal Portrush as The Open Championship cranked up a notch in round three.

Bright skies and low winds were the order of the day in Northern Ireland, a stark contrast to the heavy rain that is forecast to provide a huge challenge for the leaders on Sunday.

On a moving day when Shane Lowry took Portrush apart to establish a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood, our Omnisport team were out and about on the ground once again.

Here, we bring you stories you may have missed from Portrush.


COVERING THE OPEN IS A GIANT TASK

An Open Championship is an absolute privilege to cover for a journalist, but it's also hard work!

The days start early, finish late and are filled with any number of tasks from writing stories, interviewing, shooting video, talking on the radio and television...

If you're struggling to feel any sympathy for the lot of the many journalists at Royal Portrush this week, the revelation that one of Omnisport's reporters found time for a spot of sightseeing will certainly not change your mind.

Early on Saturday, said reporter headed for the Giant's Causeway to take in the stunning views around this world-famous tourist attraction that sits just a few miles from the golf course.

The tens of thousands of interlocking basalt columns form a spectacle so grand and beautiful that it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BLACK CAPS CWC LOSS STILL RANKLES WITH FOX FAN

When roving the course, you get the opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life.

One of the Omnisport team was involved in a three-way chat with an Indian man and New Zealand woman, who were there mainly supporting Shubhankar Sharma and Ryan Fox.

The conversation briefly turned to cricket, where the Black Caps supporter was adamant the Kiwis should not have lost the World Cup, which incredibly was less than a week ago.

"Our own countryman stole it!" she said, in reference to New Zealand-born Ben Stokes dramatically and accidentally deflecting the ball for four additional runs at a crucial juncture.

Sport hurts, kids...

PORTRUSH LOCAL SHOWS THE WAY

Often after the cut at a major championship, the field is left with an odd number of players, meaning one poor soul is scheduled to tee off alone.

But usually the said player - on this occasion Paul Waring - will play with a marker, and Royal Portrush head professional Gary McNeill had that honour on Saturday.

And he enjoyed a moment to savour at the 17th hole when he drained a monster putt in front of an appreciative local crowd.

SHANE LOVES LOVE ISLAND...

One of the more popular TV shows in the United Kingdom right now is Love Island, a show where young, single males and females spend time in a villa looking for love... and it's not to everyone's taste.

But for the Open Championship leader it's the ideal way to unwind after a round on the course.

"I'd be lying if I said Love Island wasn't on [in the house]," Lowry said, to laughter among the press pack. "I do the same things as any other person [to relax], I lay back and watch on TV. "

Each to their own, Shane...

Shane Lowry produced the finish of dreams in round three of the Open Championship to take a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood heading into Sunday.

The Irishman brilliantly made the most of the favourable scoring conditions at Royal Portrush on Saturday to sign for an 8-under 63, just one stroke off levelling the lowest score in Open history, leaving him at 16 under for the tournament.

It would take a huge turnaround for Lowry not to make his major breakthrough on the Dunluce Links. After Fleetwood, Lowry's nearest challengers are J.B. Holmes (-10), Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose (both -9).

But the threat of heavy rain looms large in Portrush, so there may yet be one final twist in this Open tale in Northern Ireland.

Below we profile the leading contenders and the best of the rest heading in round four.


THE MAIN CONTENDERS


SHANE LOWRY:

Age: 32

Best major finish: T2 at 2016 U.S. Open

Current ranking/highest ranking: 33/17

European/PGA Tour wins: 4

Reasons he'll win: There has been a vociferous backing for Irishman Lowry this week at Portrush and it is an energy he has fed off to the greatest effect. He is also a dab hand on the links and has looked utterly unflappable this week.

Reasons he won't win: There is a target on Lowry's back and the last time he was in a scenario like this at the 2016 U.S. Open he did not exactly enjoy the pressure. Leading by four heading into the final round at Oakmont, he limped to a six-over-par 76 and finished three off winner Dustin Johnson.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD:

Age: 28

Best major finish: 2nd at 2018 U.S. Open

Current ranking/highest ranking: 20/9

European/PGA Tour wins: 4

Reasons he'll win: Growing up in Southport, close to Royal Birkdale, Fleetwood just loves these type of golf courses and the adverse weather forecast for Sunday is unlikely to cause him too much concern. Seeing his good pal Francesco Molinari win this same tournament a year ago will also act as motivation to reel in Lowry.

Reasons he won't win: The gap to Lowry is now a big one and he will need his last-day rival to lose the tournament as much as he will need to win it. All Fleetwood can do is make sure he is clinical when the birdie chances present themselves.


BEST OF THE REST:

J.B. Holmes

Reasons he'll win: If either of the two men above him flounder, Holmes has shown throughout the weekend he can really play around Portrush. Three years ago at Troon he was the best of the rest as Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson played out one of the greatest final days in major history.

Reasons he won't win: On a day where scoring was favourable, Holmes could only muster a two-under 69. If the bad weather arrives on Sunday, which it is fully expected to, chances to go low will be scarce.


Brooks Koepka:

Reasons he'll win: Because that is what Brooks Koepka likes to do in majors. He has four of them since 2017. The world number one's record this year reads 2-1-2 and if he can get his putter firing hot then who knows?

Reasons he won't win: Koepka has been giving himself chances to shoot a really low score all week but has been blowing cold with the flatstick. It could ultimately prove his downfall here.


Justin Rose:

Reasons he'll win: You don't become a major champion and a world number one for nothing. It's undoubtedly a tall order but having come so close at Carnoustie a year ago, Rose will be focused on producing the round of his dreams.

Reasons he won't win: Just the sheer volume of variables he will need. Lowry and Fleetwood will have to drop back, the weather will have to not be quite as bad as expected, and even if those things happen he will have to outplay Koepka.

Shane Lowry is optimistic he can complete the job after securing a four-shot lead to take into the final round of The Open Championship.

The Irishman's 63 on Saturday put him well clear of Tommy Fleetwood, who was in turn two shots in front of third-placed J.B. Holmes.

Lowry would be a hugely popular winner at Royal Portrush, but he was reminded after his third round of a similar scenario three years ago at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, when he also led by four after 54 holes.

On that occasion, a closing 76 saw him finish in a tie for second.

This time Lowry is determined to last the distance and carry off the Claret Jug.

He said: "I hope I’m going to be able to deal with it better. It’s going to be difficult. I know it's going to be hard.

"But I think I'm ready for it. Hopefully I'm ready for it."

Speaking on Sky Sports, Lowry said: "My mind's a bit fuzzy. I just really enjoyed today. Obviously, I played great golf. The crowd were incredible. And I just felt so comfortable out there.

"I'm hoping I feel that comfortable out there tomorrow. I know it's going to be a tough 24 hours ahead of me, but you know what, there's nowhere I'd rather be – a four-shot lead in an Open Championship in Ireland.

"Tomorrow's going to be incredible, regardless of what happens."

Lowry reached 16 under par for the tournament, and it would be a first major for the 32-year-old if he closes out the win.

"I felt so in control of my game. There are very few times in golf when you get into that position and it's just great when it happens," he added.

"Every time I hit the ball I just wanted to hole it because of the roar – I just wanted to hear that roar again.

"I said to Bo [caddy Brian Martin] walking off the 17th tee, the next half an hour we might never experience anything like it again so let's enjoy it and that's what I did.

"It all happened nicely today. It was one of the most incredible days of my life."

Shane Lowry shot a stunning 63 to take a four-shot lead into the final round of The Open Championship.

The Irishman started Saturday as co-leader with J.B. Holmes but ended the day six shots clear of the American, with Tommy Fleetwood now his nearest rival.

Having shot back-to-back 67s, Lowry's blemish-free third-round tally represented the best score of the week so far at Royal Portrush as he moved to 16 under overall.

But he faces a stiff challenge on Sunday, not only from fellow maiden major hopeful Fleetwood, but also the weather, with tee times having been moved forward amid a forecast of potential storms.

And it is not only the conditions that will test Lowry, who led by four going into the last round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont before collapsing and finishing three back of Dustin Johnson, as four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is one shot behind Holmes on nine under, along with Justin Rose.

American Holmes had got to 11 under by the 12th but his round stalled before a birdie at the last, while Lee Westwood endured a back-nine decline to fall eight shots back.

The likes of Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Danny Willett on seven under almost certainly have too much work to do.

On a warm and relatively calm day in Northern Ireland, it was Lowry who capitalised most to turn in a scorecard that boasted eight birdies.

Met with raucous applause onto every tee, he left most greens with a similar din ringing in his ears as his putter ran hot in a superb all-round display.

Lowry birdied 15, 16 and 17 and very nearly nailed a 25-foot putt for another gain at 18, which would have equalled the best score in Open history, but settled for a par to seal the greatest round of his life.

He will hope Sunday brings an even greater reward.

Sunday's tee times for the final round of The Open Championship have been brought forward due to concerns over adverse weather conditions.

The clear skies and light winds that greeted fans at Royal Portrush on Saturday are forecast to be replaced by heavy rains throughout most of the final day.

To avoid the threat of delays, tee times are scheduled to begin earlier in the morning with the opening group of the day now due to go off at 7.32am local time.

The leaders involved in the final round of the day will now begin at 1.47pm.

Kyle Stanley was unapologetic after Robert MacIntrye complained he had failed to shout fore quickly enough before a stray shot hit his caddie's mother.

Stanley was castigated by his playing partner following the second round at The Open, after a poor tee shot on the 17th at Royal Portrush hit a member of the crowd.

The spectator, it turned out, was the mother of MacIntyre's caddie, and the Scot revealed there were "harsh words" between the two men.

But Stanley - who carded 73 in the third round on Saturday - has hit back at MacIntyre's complaints, insisting enough people around the tee warned the crowd of the impending danger.

"Several people on the tee box yelled fore," Stanley said.

"My two playing partners, my caddie, a couple of the volunteers or the marshals, even had them signalling it was going right. I mean, everyone to the right of that ball, they knew it was coming.

"So to me it's a non-issue. I'm not really sure why he decided to make such an issue about it.

"I know it hit his caddie's mum's hands off the bounce and that's unfortunate. But as far as I'm concerned, a number of people yelled fore.

"I thought that was enough. My intention was to never do anything negative or put anybody in the gallery in harm's way."

Stanley did, however, acknowledge he could have possibly shouted out a warning first, though believes the issue has been overblown because of who the shot hit.

"He made the argument that since I hit the ball that it maybe should have come out of my mouth first. I guess I can see that," the American said.

"If it didn't [hit the caddie's mother], I don't think we’d be talking about it right now.

"If his issue was with me not being the first person to say fore, does he have a point? Does he not have a point? That’s up to him."

Danny Willett carded a 65 to surge into Open Championship contention and then warned Royal Portrush will "grow some teeth again" for Sunday's final round.

The 2016 Masters champion has worked wonders to put himself in the mix after an opening-round 74 and on Saturday he carded his best score at a major to go seven under for the tournament.

That put him within striking distance of a leading pack that includes Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and J.B. Holmes - none of whom have won a major.

But while there were favourable conditions for the third round, the closing 18 holes are set be played amid wind and rain in Northern Ireland.

Asked how he will deal with the inclement weather, the Englishman replied: "No idea!

"It could be windy and rainy, it could be just windy, it could be just rainy. We don't know until we get up in the afternoon.

"The weather looks pretty poor from about 9am onwards. Then this place will grow some teeth again.

"You've seen it fluctuate through different winds. Winds being stronger, guys find certain holes really difficult, a little bit of rain comes in. 

"If it is what it is forecast [on Sunday], 10 to 15-mile-an-hour winds and raining, this place will be a completely different kettle of fish."

 

Shane Lowry inched ahead midway through round way three of The Open, but J.B. Holmes, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood were all battling away towards the top of the leaderboard.

Irishman Lowry, co-leading with Holmes overnight at Royal Portrush, birdied the ninth and went out in three under to reach 11 under for the tournament.

Westwood made a trio of birdies from the second to the fourth to reach 10 under, a score matched by Fleetwood who picked up shots at the first, fifth and seventh.

Holmes had a birdie opportunity at the ninth, but failed to take advantage and was also one back of Lowry.

The excellent conditions at Royal Portrush were making for a fascinating day of scoring, with Rickie Fowler's five-under-par 66 allowing him to set the clubhouse target at eight under.

Danny Willett carded a majestic 65, his lowest round in major golf, to get back home at seven under for the tournament.

Brooks Koepka, Dylan Frittelli and Justin Harding were all at seven under and still out on the course.

Moving day was living up to its billing early in round three of The Open as Tommy Fleetwood joined the co-leaders at eight under and Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose each made early progress.

Clear skies at Royal Portrush was making for plenty of birdie opportunities and Fleetwood, starting just one shot back, made a gain on the first to move to eight under.

That was the same score as overnight leaders Shane Lowry and J.B. Holmes, who both parred the first hole.

Jordan Spieth was one adrift after back-to-back gains at the second and third, while Koepka and Rose birdied the second and were seven and six under respectively.

Cameron Smith also picked up a shot at the second, the par five proving a popular hole, and the Australian was at seven under, as was Lee Westwood.

There was plenty of movement from the earlier starters as well. Danny Willett was five under for the round through 13 and two shots back of the leaders, joining Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Henrik Stenson and Park Sang-hyun at six under.

Francesco Molinari hopes to soon be celebrating an Open Championship win for Tommy Fleetwood and insists the Englishman is destined to claim a major one day.

The 2018 Champion Golfer of the Year paired up with Fleetwood to form a formidable partnership at last year's Ryder Cup.

They became known collectively as 'Moliwood' and now the Italian half of that duo, who won the Claret Jug by two strokes at Carnoustie, wants to see his close friend's name next to his own on the famous silverware.

Fleetwood sat third at the midway point in Northern Ireland, just one stroke behind leading duo J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry.

"It would make a good story for you guys to have the two of us, one next to the other on the Claret Jug," said Molinari after shooting a 72 at Royal Portrush on Saturday, having narrowly made the cut.

"He's a friend and I'll cheer him on and hopefully he can get it done. There is still a long way to go but he's there definitely with a chance. If it's not this week I think it's coming soon.

"The way he plays, he's a very talented player and he's still very young.

"Talking about expectations, he needs to wait for his time and it will come, for sure. The way he plays and the way he handles himself, it's just a matter of time. 

"I hope for him it will be this week, it will be great to have his name next to mine on the Claret Jug and we can have a big party together next week."

Fleetwood, 28, goes out in the penultimate group alongside compatriot Lee Westwood on a day of generally favourable conditions on the Dunluce Links.

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