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Shane Lowry wins British Open in its celebrated return to Emerald Isle

Shane Lowry of Ireland celebrates with the Claret

Shane Lowry of Ireland celebrates with the Claret Jug on the 18th green during the final round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on Sunday in Portrush, United Kingdom. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Francois Nel

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — It was a triumph for a man, and no less for a land. Irishman Shane Lowry on Sunday won the first British Open played in Ireland in 68 years, clutching the famed claret jug for himself while sharing joy with his elated countrymen.

 “Oh, my God,” Lowry said of the reception from the cheering fans. “It is amazing. It’s hard to believe. I think a lot of people where I’m from made the journey here.”

That would be County Offaly, a few hours' drive away, and although that’s the Republic of Ireland and this is Northern Ireland, everyone there and here identifies himself or herself as Irish.

Lowry, 32, will be identified by the label they call the winner, “Champion Golfer of the Year.” He earned that by overcoming wind and rain on the difficult Dunluce Links of Royal Portrush, shooting a 1-over-par 72 for a 15-under 269 and a six-stroke win in the 148th Open. It was the third-largest victory margin since World War II.

Lowry is only the second Open champion from the Republic, joining Padraig Harrington (2007, 2008).

The weather tormented all the golfers — “Brutal,”  Cameron Smith said of the conditions — but Lowry was so far in front after three rounds that even when he made consecutive bogeys on 8 and 9 there wasn’t a chance he would lose.

Tommy Fleetwood, an Englishman, was next at 275 after a 74, and also was second in the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Tony Finau was third at 277 after an impressive, even-par 71. Lee Westwood and Brooks Koepka tied for fourth at 278.

Only two of the top 10 finishers, Robert McIntyre and Tyrrell Hatton, broke 70. It was a round to hang on to your club and hold on to your nerve. It was a classic British Open: umbrellas flying, balls soaring and strokes mounting.

And Lowry thinking.

In the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Lowry also had a large lead in the final round (four strokes) but shot 6 over par and finished in a three-way tie for second behind Dustin Johnson. So when the lead here went from six to four, there was some anxiety.

“Then when I had it around the turn,” Lowry said, “I had a look at a few leaderboards, and it was so hard out there. When that big shower came on 8, the rain was really coming down. But I started to feel comfortable after 14.

“I thought I played the last five holes -- although I bogeyed 14 -- incredibly well. And I felt incredibly good, like I was going to do it.”

He did it.

Fleetwood struggled in the middle of the round and said he was disappointed. “I know six shots is a long way behind, but it always feels closer when you’re playing. For about four holes I was the second-best player in the Open.”

The best was Lowry, who can hit with finesse as well as power. He saved par several times when the wind made him miss greens. But he didn’t miss 18, and didn’t miss his opportunity in the Open.

“It was incredible to walk down 18,” Lowry said. “The crowd is going wild, singing, ‘Ole, Ole.’ I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I tried to soak it in as much as I could.”

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