PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland (AP) — The rain was verging on torrential, the putts weren’t dropping, and Tommy Fleetwood was looking thoroughly miserable on the most remote part of the soggy Dunluce Links.
“Oh, Tommy,” he said, his shoulders slumping as his third shot from the middle of the fairway at the par-4 seventh hole fell short and into the greenside bunker on the right.
A Sunday charge never materialized at the British Open for Fleetwood, the Englishman with the long locks only once getting within three strokes of playing partner and eventual champion Shane Lowry after starting four shots back.
That first major title will have to wait at least another year.
“I’m trending in the right way,” said Fleetwood, who now has two runner-up finishes at the majors on his resume. “I just hope my time will come eventually.”
It ended up being a slog for Fleetwood on a wet and wild day at Royal Portrush, when there was barely a smile from one of the most easy-going guys in golf as he shot a 3-over 74 to finish six strokes behind Lowry.
The pro-Lowry crowd was fair to the man who came to spoil the party — there were regular roars of “Come on, Tommy!” and polite applause for his best of his shots — and there must have been concerns across the Emerald Isle when Lowry bogeyed the first hole after hitting his opening drive left and then finding the greenside bunker.
But Fleetwood needed to make the most of every opportunity to pressure Lowry, and he didn’t.
He missed to the right a birdie putt from 6 feet at No. 1 that would have halved the deficit. He sent a 12-foot putt for birdie too far right at No. 2, after Lowry had made par. Then he slid left a 5-foot par putt at No. 3, to some whispers of “Yes!” by fans huddled round the green.
Fleetwood’s putter stayed cold. He left a 10-foot putt for birdie centimeters short at No. 4, meaning he dropped a shot to Lowry. After reaching the fifth green with a 3-wood off the tee, he pushed an eagle putt from 12 feet and could only match Lowry’s birdie.
Indeed, Fleetwood’s first putt that wasn’t from tap-in range was at No. 6, and that was to save par.
By then, Lowry had moved six shots clear and was on his way to what Fleetwood described as a “bit of a procession” in the final holes.
“Those first few holes, when you start four back, are pretty crucial,” Fleetwood said, “and I didn’t do a good enough job pressing at that point.”
Fleetwood knew the game was up when he drove into a bunker at the par-4 14th hole.
“You never want to think like that, and you obviously carry on, but that was pretty much it,” he said.
Playing in the final group at a major for the first time, Fleetwood at least had a front-row seat for a clinic on how to seal victory at one of the biggest events in golf.
He praised Lowry’s shot selection, his composure, and his putting under pressure. Lowry’s short game was better, too.
The two players embraced on the 18th green, seconds after Lowry was confirmed as the champion golfer of the year, before Fleetwood left the stage for the Irishman.
“He literally controlled the tournament from the start of today until the end,” Fleetwood said, “and that’s a very, very impressive thing to do.”
Fleetwood’s other second-place finish at a major was at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills last year. That felt different, though, because he shot a scarcely believable final round of 63 as one of the early starters in the best conditions of the day, and finished one stroke behind Brooks Koepka.
Here, Fleetwood was in the thick of contention, the claret jug in his sights.
Given his age — 28 — and his talent, there will surely be more chances for the 20th-ranked Fleetwood to win a major.
It didn’t stop this one from hurting.
“I’m not putting down the U.S. Open, but if I could pick one event it would be the (British) Open,” he said. “It’s my dream, and it always will be. And you’re teeing off in the last group on Sunday with a very, very good chance.
“So it feels a lot rougher finishing when you feel like you’ve come so close to what you’ve dreamt as a kid.”
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80