PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Shane Lowry made the 68 years between British Opens in Northern Ireland worth the wait. The silver claret jug is staying on the Emerald Isle.
Lowry, the 32-year-old Irishman with stout nerves and a soft touch around the greens, endured the worst weather of the week and the Sunday pressure of a sellout crowd cheering him along to win the British Open by six shots at Royal Portrush.
Lowry closed with a 1-over 72, the first time since 1996 the Open champion was over par in the final round, and it was no less impressive. More difficult than the rain was wind strong enough to break an umbrella. Lowry began making bogeys in the middle of the round without losing ground. No one from the last 12 groups broke par.
And no one got closer than three shots all day of Lowry, who finished at 15-under 269.
Thousands of fans who filled these links off the North Atlantic began to celebrate when Lowry, after his fourth bogey in seven holes, rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to stretch his lead to six with three holes to play.
Lowry’s smile got wider with every hole coming in.
When his approach to the 18th was just on the fringe, he stretched out his arms, hugging caddie Bo Martin. The loudest cheer of a raucous week was for a tap-in par that made Lowry a major champion.
Tommy Fleetwood had to settle for his second runner-up finish in a major. He missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the opening hole that would have cut the deficit to two, and he missed a five-footer for par on the third hole. His hopes ended with a double bogey from the bunker and the rough, and he closed with a 74.
Tony Finau shot 71 to finish alone in third, though he was never closer than seven shots. Brooks Koepka, going for his fourth major in the last seven, began the final round seven shots behind and opened with four straight bogeys. He shot 74 and tied for fourth.
Royal Portrush last hosted the British Open in 1951, the only time it had been outside Scotland and England. It pinned hopes at the start of the week on Rory McIlroy, who missed the cut by one shot. It celebrated Darren Clarke hitting the first tee shot Thursday. The other Ulstersman, Portrush native Graeme McDowell, basked in the loudest cheers he has heard this side of the Ryder Cup when he walked up to the 18th green on Sunday.
And then along came Lowry, who teamed with McIlroy to bring Irish golf a European Amateur title in 2007, and who won the Irish Open as an amateur 10 years ago. He joins Padraig Harrington as Irishmen to win majors, while McIlroy, McDowell, Clarke and Fred Daly are major champions from Northern Ireland.
“Everyone knows we’re all one country when it comes to golf,” Lowry said.
Lowry shared his victory with his family who paved the way, the players who inspired him. And after he was introduced as “champion golfer of the year,” he shared it with thousands of people he didn’t even know, all of them crammed along the hillocks and swales, along the edge of the ocean, and who sat in the horseshoe-shaped grandstands under umbrellas waiting for the Irishman to arrive.
Holding up the claret jug, Lowry said to them, “This one’s for you.”