|The 148th Open Championship – third-round leaderboard|
|-16S Lowry (Ire);-12T Fleetwood (Eng);-10JB Holmes (US);-9B Koepka (US), J Rose (Eng);-8R Fowler (US), L Westwood;-7D Willett (Eng), J Rahm (Spa), T Finau (US), J Spieth (US)|
|Selected others:-2G McDowell (NI), D Johnson (US),-1S Garcia (Spa), E Els (SA);+2P Casey (Eng)|
Ireland’s Shane Lowry produced one of the great major championship rounds with a sensational eight-under-par 63 that sees him take a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of The Open.
Lowry, who called it “one of the most incredible days of my life,” carded eight birdies to finish on 16 under overall at Royal Portrush.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood is Lowry’s closest rival on 12 under after a 66.
JB Holmes is third on 10 under, one head of Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka.
World number one Koepka, who won this year’s US PGA Championship and finished runner-up at the Masters and US Open, finished with successive birdies on the 17th and 18th holes to keep himself in contention to win a fifth major in his last 10 appearances.
But the day belonged to the 32-year-old Lowry who started the day tied at the top of the leaderboard alongside Holmes and was in sensational form from the first hole until the last, hitting 17 of the 18 greens in regulation as he set a new course record.
A partisan crowd at the Northern Irish course cheered his every birdie, the noise being so raucous that Fleetwood and playing partner Lee Westwood, who were in the group in front, had to wait to play their tee shots on the 18th.
And there were incredible scenes as Lowry walked down the last. Scenes usually reserved for the final day of the championship, as fans stood to applaud and cheer their man as he completed a memorable round of golf.
With adverse weather forecast for Sunday, tee times have been brought forward with the first tee time at 07:32 BST with the leaders beginning their final round at 13:47 BST.
‘Nowhere I’d rather be’
With home favourite Rory McIlroy – who shot a 61 on this course before two new holes were created on the Dunluce Links for The Open – missing Friday’s halfway cut, the fans put their support behind Lowry, and he rose to the occasion.
He came agonisingly close to matching Branden Grace’s major-championship record of 62, set at The Open two years ago at Birkdale, but his effort for birdie on the 18th missed by an inch.
Nevertheless, his 16-under overall total of 197 is the lowest after 54 holes in Open history and he has, so far, shown little signs of faltering in his pursuit of a first major success.
Even as Fleetwood rose up the leaderboard Lowry kept his cool, picking up a shot on the par-five fourth before taking the outright lead with another gain on the 12th before successive birdies on the 15th, 16th and 17th stretched his advantage to four.
And amid the chaotic scenes on the 18th as Lowry putted for par, his playing partner Holmes holed a birdie putt to ensure a positive end to a mixed round.
The American had kept pace with Lowry through the first 12 holes, sinking three birdies without dropping a shot, but bogeys on the 13th and 14th allowed Lowry to move clear. Holmes finished with a two-under 69 and starts Sunday’s round six shots off the pace.
However, Lowry knows as well as anyone that there is still a long way to go. Three years ago he went into the final round of the US Open with a four-shot lead only to let that tournament slip from his grasp with a final-round 76.
“I hope I’m going to be able to deal with it better,” said Lowry. “I know it’s going to be difficult and hard but hopefully I am ready for it.
“I have a tough 24 hours ahead of me, but there’s nowhere I would rather be. I have a four-shot lead in an Open in Ireland. Sunday is going to be incredible no matter what happens.”
Fleetwood excited for ‘special Sunday’
Waiting to pounce should Lowry slip up, however, is Fleetwood.
The Southport native is aiming to become the first English winner of the Open since Nick Faldo in 1992 and he, like Lowry, made the most of the calm conditions to shoot a low score on the front nine, hitting three birdies to reach the turn in three under.
Fleetwood picked up another birdie on the par-five 12th but finished with six straight pars to post a bogey-free 66.
“We’ll see what happens, but Sunday is going to be special and very loud,” Fleetwood told BBC Radio 5 live.
“It will be a challenge to keep your concentration all day but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Mixed rounds for battling Englishmen
England’s Rose, who finished in a share of second place at last year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie, threatened to trouble the leaders when an eagle on the par-five 12th followed by two birdies propelled him up the leaderboard.
However, a bogey on the par-three 16th meant he finished with a three-under 68 and will start Sunday seven shots behind Lowry, alongside Koepka, who shot six birdies and two bogeys.
Compatriot Lee Westwood briefly climbed to the top of the leaderboard after a run of three successive birdies from the second, sparking hopes the 46-year-old might finally break his major duck, but his form slipped on the back nine and two bogeys meant he signed for a 70 to finish on eight under.
But it was a good day for 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett as the Yorkshireman shot the second lowest total of the day.
The 31-year-old hit six birdies without dropping a shot, giving him the clubhouse lead halfway through the round but Lowry’s scintillating display likely leaves Willett needing another strong final round to just put himself in contention for a second major victory.