PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — Birdie after birdie. Roar after roar.
It certainly looked and sounded like the round of a lifetime for Shane Lowry of Ireland, but he still needs to handle the pressure and the stormy weather on Sunday if he is to win the British Open just a few hours from home.
Lowry, a stout 32-year-old whose father, Brendan, was a prominent Gaelic football player, missed the cut the last four years at the Open. He lost his playing privileges on the PGA Tour, the sport’s El Dorado, in 2018.
But he has been playing deeply inspired and deeply composed golf at Royal Portrush in this tournament and is receiving an abundance of positive feedback from the capacity crowds lining this scenic, undulating course.
His brilliant, eight-under-par round of 63 on Saturday in relatively benign conditions put him at 16 under and gave him a four-shot lead over the Englishman Tommy Fleetwood heading into the final round.
Lowry now has the precious opportunity to win the first British Open to be played on the island of Ireland since 1951.
“I’m not going to be sitting there tomorrow morning in the house in a corner trying not to think about the day ahead,” Lowry said. “Obviously I’ll go to bed thinking about holding the claret jug tomorrow evening. It’s only natural, isn’t it? We’re human. We’re not robots.”
He added, “When you try not to think about something, you end up thinking about it more, so you might as well talk about it.”
If it sounds as if Lowry has learned all that the hard way, he has.
In the 2016 United States Open, at Oakmont Country Club, Lowry also had a four-stroke lead heading into the final round with a chance to win his first major championship.
He shot a six-over 76 that Sunday and finished tied for second behind the winner, Dustin Johnson, which would have been cause for celebration under different circumstances but felt more like a punch in the gut.
On Saturday, it did not take long for a reporter to ask him about Oakmont.
“I was waiting for that,” Lowry said, rolling his left wrist as if to say, “Bring it on.”
“I learned a lot about myself at Oakmont,” he said. “I’m going to learn a lot about myself tomorrow.”
Struggling to find the right words, Lowry explained that winning this time “probably doesn’t mean as much to me as it did then, which is going to make it a little bit easier.”
He said the 2017 birth of his daughter, Iris, had helped him put golf in perspective. He arrived at the course on Saturday holding Iris’s hand as he walked through the security gate with his wife, Wendy.
“I’m not saying that it doesn’t mean everything; it’s my career,” he said. “But I’ve got certain things in my life that make it different. I’ve got family now. No matter what I shoot tomorrow, my family will be waiting for me.”
The other difference from Oakmont is that Lowry will have the crowd behind him this time as the only man from Ireland or Northern Ireland in contention. Rory McIlroy was the focus at Portrush in the first two rounds, but he, a four-time major champion from Northern Ireland, missed the cut by a single stroke.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but amateur golfers from both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland play under an umbrella organization known as the Golfing Union of Ireland. McIlroy and Lowry are both likely to represent Ireland in next year’s Olympics.
There could be no doubt that Lowry was playing somewhere very close to home on Saturday as the crowd’s cheers rumbled across the greens and dunes. Lowry’s birthplace in Clara, Ireland, is about 160 miles from Portrush.
“I grew up four hours away,” Lowry said. “I kind of felt like I could come here and come under the radar a little bit. That’s what was nice about this week, but obviously I’m not quite under the radar anymore.”
He still has some serious challengers and potentially serious weather to overcome.
Fleetwood, one of the stars of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States last year, is at 12 under. J. B. Holmes, an American who was third in the 2016 Open at Royal Troon, is at 10 under.
Brooks Koepka, an American who is ranked No. 1 in the world, is at nine under after finishing his round of 67 on Saturday with consecutive birdies.
Koepka has been the most consistent man in the majors this year. He tied for second at the Masters, won the P.G.A. Championship and finished second again at the U.S. Open.
But he is a long way — seven strokes — behind Lowry, as is the former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.
Holmes and Lowry started the day tied for the lead at eight under. With their similar builds, caps and full beards, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish them.
The writer Rick Reilly joked that they were “the same guy separated by an accent.”
But their golfing fortunes eventually diverged on the back nine as Lowry continued to find greens and hole all manner of putts. He finished with eight birdies and nary a bogey, setting a course record on the newly reconfigured Royal Portrush links.
“Playing with a guy making everything, it feels like you shot a million,” said Holmes, who shot a 69.
Lowry came within about an inch of shooting a 62. His 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th stopped on the left edge of the cup. But his experience on the 18th was still a moment to savor.
After his approach shot landed safely on the 18th green, he made the long walk with the gallery standing and serenading him. He doffed his cap, looking left and right at the packed grandstands.
And yet Saturday could well have been the calm before the storm, with rain and high winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour expected on Sunday. Open organizers have moved up the leaders’ tee times in an effort to avoid the worst of the weather.
But there will be no avoiding final-round pressure for Lowry, or any man who gets close to him.