Pádraig Harrington toasted the double victory of Shane Lowry and Royal Portrush as a brilliant moment for Irish sport as the 148th Open Championship was declared a resounding success.
Harrington, 47, had set the ball rolling for Irish golfers when broke a 60-year major drought to win the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, paving the way for nine more in 12 years, a remarkable strike rate for such a relatively small population.
Lowry, 32, took the total to double figures since 2007 with his runaway six-shot victory in the rain at Portrush on Sunday, and Harrington was waiting for his friend at the back of the 18th green as the Offalyman sank the winning putt to send a record crowd into raptures.
Lowry had shot a superb course-record, third-round 63 on the links course that had been updated to accommodate a major championship, as well as the 237,750-strong crowds that attended this first all-ticket Open last week. And he returned the following day to survive a nervy opening tee shot and prove himself the best to capable of adapting to the testing conditions of wind and heavy rain in a gripping, gruelling final round. His one-over-par 73 was
good enough to see off his nearest rivals, none of whom could match his last-day score as he extended his overnight lead from four to six strokes over Tommy Fleetwood.
“Sunday was very comfortable for Shane, bar the first hole. I’m sure when he holed that putt for bogey on the first he went to the second tee feeling like he had won the first hole,” Harrington said of Lowry’s testing opening-hole bogey, the damage limited by Fleetwood’s missed birdie putt.
“From there on, he never looked like he was in trouble, he might have taken some bogeys, but never looked like taking any more on any hole out there. He could play conservatively. Shane has a really strong game, but it’s extremely strong in those conditions.
“He didn’t put himself under a lot of stress. There was no panic about his play, he did the right things at the right times to guarantee he had a six-shot win and got to enjoy it walking up the last.”
Harrington’s own bid to claim a third Claret Jug and fourth major title of his illustrious career came up short with a missed cut on Friday, but was more than pleased the tournament proved such a success on its return to Portrush for the first time since 1951.
“This Open has been as good as any Open. The icing on the cake was Shane winning.
“Every sporting event we host in this country we get behind it and back it and that has been shown again this week. The crowds came out in numbers and clearly enjoyed themselves but in the best possible way.
“A lot of things happened this week that were a big boost to the event, Rory (McIlroy) playing so well on Friday, Shane shooting his course record on Saturday. The buzz was there (Sunday) in miserable weather. For Ireland, as such a small place, that’s our 11th Major win — we just keep producing.”
McIlroy offered his own tribute on Instagram, writing:
“Even though last week wasn’t the week I had envisaged for myself, I couldn’t be happier and more proud of @shanelowrygolf.
“How he handled everything over the weekend.... emotions, nerves and conditions tells you everything I’ve gotten to know about him over the past 15 years. 2019 Champion Golfer of the Year! Enjoy some good stuff out of the Claret Jug!”
Harrington, appointed European Ryder Cup captain for 2020 when his side will defend the title won by predecessor Thomas Bjorn in Paris last September, will also be delighted to have heard Lowry switch focus to making his team for the matches against the United States 15 months from now at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
His two victories this season, in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour last January, and his major breakthrough at the weekend, have come too soon for Ryder Cup qualification points, but he will begin the process this autumn with both his confidence and status within the game at an all-time high.
The Open win, worth €1.7m, has propelled him from 33 to a career-high 17 in the world rankings.
He has also shot to number one in the European Tour’s Race To Dubai standings and 18 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings, a position which currently puts him in contention for the end of season end-of-season Tour Championship and a shot at the FedEx Cup bonus of $10m (€8.9m).