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Irishman Shane Lowery leads charge toward U.S. Open title

Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts after a birdie

Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts after a birdie on the ninth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania on June 18, 2016. Credit: EPA / Erik S. Lesser

OAKMONT, Pa.—Amid the darkness that rolled over Oakmont and intruded on another round, Shane Lowry looked on the bright side. He got a chance to rest, he will have fresh greens this morning. Plus, he has a two-stroke lead in the U.S. Open.

“This is right where you want to be,” said the golfer who is 5 under par with four holes to play in the third round, which was suspended by darkness a little before 9 Saturday night.

True, it is not perfect. He and six of the other leaders have to wake up early to be on the course at 7 a.m. for the finish of their third round, before heading into a final round that could change their lives. But he had said the other day that no excuses would fly during a championship that was thrown off kilter by thunderstorms on Thursday. At the time, he said that the golfers who were grumbling would be the ones going home early.

Lowry is among those staying late. He is 5 under through 14 holes of Round 3 at a somewhat pliant Oakmont Country Club (greens still are soft from the rain), having moved ahead of an eclectic cast. Andrew Landry, the PGA Tour rookie and surprise first-round leader, has hung in there and is two strokes back with five holes to play.

Then there are three players who would desperately love to win a first major title to cap off already accomplished careers: Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood all are at 2 under. What a relief it would be to any of them, to get that monkey off his back.

“On my back or on my bag?” Garcia joked, when he couldn’t quite hear someone’s question about it. “No, there’s no monkeys. That’s nonsense. The only thing I can do is give myself chances. Play well. And if it happens, it happens.”

It also could happen for Branden Grace (1 under), Scott Piercy (even) or world No. 1 Jason Day and British Open champion Zach Johnson (in a group at 1 over). It is appropriate that there is no clarity at an event that began under angry clouds Thursday and has been running in a makeshift schedule ever since.

None of it has bothered Lowry. He avoided any double-bogeys, like the one second-round leader Dustin Johnson made by pitching short on No. 3 and watching the ball roll back past his feet. “I’ve been in this position before. I know what to expect,” said Johnson, who has had a series of weekend disappointments at majors.

Lowry, 29 of Mullinger, Ireland, had told his father on the way to the course Saturday that he “felt very comfortable out there.” He took the lead with a birdie 3 on No. 7, after a birdie on the par-3 sixth.

“I’m quite aware of what’s going on around me,” he said. “But yes, my game is good.”

You could say that his luck might not have been so great, considering golfers such as Day finished their rounds and will get to sleep late Sunday. But Lowry saw the positive in his situation. “I was getting tired toward the end. I wasn’t hitting any bad shots or anything. But if I had to play another four holes, it would have been quite difficult,” he said, adding that the greens had become bumpy late in the day and should be smoother this morning.

He does have experience in closing the deal. He won the Irish Open as an amateur in a monsoon and won the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational, a World Golf Championships event. “I beat a field of this quality already. So there’s no reason I can’t do it again tomorrow,” he said.

“I’m two ahead with 22 holes to play. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These are the best golfers in the world behind me, Dustin and Jason. Sergio played lovely today. I have to go out and do what I’ve been doing all week,” said the man who leads with a round-and-change to go. “I’ve been beating myself up over the last six months trying to get in this position. I’m here now. I might as well enjoy it while I’m here.”

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