Offaly's Shane Lowry carves out a two-shot lead at US Open
OFFALY man Shane Lowry carved out a two-shot lead before the third round of the weather-delayed US Open was suspended due to darkness on Saturday.
Lowry, who called a penalty on himself during the second round when his ball moved as he addressed a birdie putt on the 16th, had reached five under par after 14 holes at Oakmont before play was halted at 8:49pm local time.
First-round leader Andrew Landry was Lowry's closest challenger on three under with five holes to play, with Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson all another shot back. South Africa's Branden Grace, who was tied for the lead with eventual winner Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay last year until driving out of bounds on the 16th, had set the clubhouse target on one under after six birdies and two bogeys in a 66.
And world number one Jason Day was a shot further back after four birdies and an eagle in his own 66, the 28-year-old Australian battling back from an opening 76 which had left him 10 shots off the pace.
A victory for Lowry on Sunday would make it 10 major titles for Irish golfers in the last 10 years after the successes of Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell. Lowry won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron last year, just 115 miles away from Oakmont, but came into the week on the back of a missed cut in the BMW PGA Championship and frustrated at failing to turn good opening rounds into good finishes.
"I just need to put four of them together," Lowry had said after an opening 68.
"As soon as I put four of them together, I think it will be close enough."
Speaking on Saturday, Lowry added: "I've beaten a field of this quality already so there's no reason I can't do it again tomorrow. I feel very comfortable out there.
"I'm glad we didn't have to play another four holes as I was getting tired towards the end but I'm really looking forward to getting out there on Sunday. I've never been in this position but this is where you want to be."
Johnson held a one-shot lead when the delayed second round was finally completed on Saturday afternoon and quickly doubled that with a birdie on the first, before his pulled tee shot on the second hit a male spectator on the head and bounced under a concession stand.
After taking a free drop, Johnson's approach to the green finished on the edge of a bunker, from where he almost holed his delicate chip for the unlikeliest of birdies. The 31-year-old did not make the most of his good fortune however, promptly taking a double bogey on the third after a weak chip failed to find the green and rolled back to his feet.
And when Westwood holed out from 130 yards on the fifth for his second eagle of the week, a four-shot swing meant the pair were tied for the lead with Landry. Johnson regained the lead with a two-putt birdie on the par-five fourth as Westwood bogeyed the seventh, but Lowry had recovered from a bogey on the second with birdies on the fourth, sixth and seventh to move into the outright lead.
"I knew that putt was to take the lead and it was a nice little milestone," Lowry added.
"My game is good and I feel very comfortable out there."
Lowry bogeyed the eighth after finding sand off the tee but bounced back immediately to birdie the next from four feet and the 12th from half the distance to ensure he would end another long day in front. Westwood and Garcia have both failed to convert numerous chances to win a major title, but Garcia insisted there was no "monkey on his back" ahead of Sunday's final day.
"No, there's no monkeys. That's nonsense," the Ryder Cup star said.
"At the end of the day, the only thing I can do is give myself chances, play well. And if it happens, it happens. I will only know [what it means] the day that it happens. So it is easy for me to stand here and tell you it will mean this or that, but until it happens, you never know."