Delayed defence: Shane Lowry discusses his two year tenure as the Open Champion

After the cancellation of last year’s Open at Royal St George’s, Shane Lowry admits he's had a few consolations as a lengthy holder of the Claret Jug but now he’s ready for the 2021 event in July.

Big high and then a sickening low.

Boom and then bust.

Open golf feast followed by Open golf famine.

The 2019 Open at Royal Portrush was a joyous week - a festival of linksland golf that featured a longed-for return to a magnificent venue, the skewed fairytale of Rory McIlroy's homecoming, and Cheltenham-like scenes of celebration when Shane Lowry emerged victorious.

Nine months later R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers had to tell the world that the summer of 2020 would witness no Open: the 149th edition of the greatest championship was cancelled.

"I think the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had," Slumbers said in an Open media briefing today. "And cancelling 2020 was probably the worst."

Another 12 months on and preparations for the 2021 Open remain somewhat up in the air, but Slumbers can confidently state: "One thing I am clear about is that we will play the 149th Open at Royal St George's in the third week of July."

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He knows that uncertainty remains about the exact shape the championship will take, needing to constantly liaise with the UK Government and Public Health authorities, but his team "are effectively planning three different Opens" so that whichever option is viable they are ready to present it.

A complex issue, therefore, one that makes Shane Lowry's defence of the Claret Jug appear almost simple.

The Irishman joined Slumbers at the briefing and was in fine fettle after landing tied fourth at last week's PGA Championship.

He was even able to chuckle away as he recalled his only experience of Royal St George's, venue for his attempt to claim back-to-back triumphs.

"I played the Amateur Championship in 2006 and shot 81 in my one round there," he said. "I haven't been back since!

"I watched Darren Clarke win there, of course, and know it's one of the trickiest Open venues. With a good summer, it being so far south, it can get very fast. It'll be a great test."

Lowry's victory nearly two years ago actually ended a nasty run of four straight missed cuts at the Open and he hopes that his good effort last week, in addition to a career-best T21st at the Masters in April, is a sign of more Major success to come.

He's best price 50/1 with Bet Victor to win the Open in July and 66/1 with Bet365 to taste success in next month's US Open at Torrey Pines.

Here's what he had to say about his recent form in the Majors and his prospect for the rest of this summer, and the fun he has had with the Claret Jug during the last two years.

On finishing tied fourth at last week's PGA Championship:

"Obviously I had a great weekend and I feel like I'm playing the big events really well in recent years. I'm finding my A game or somewhere near my best in them. I felt like I played great at the Masters too (he recorded a career best T21st). Last week was incredible with a proper Major feel. One of the best set ups I've seen at a Major. The golf course and everything about it."

On the reasons behind his good form in the States:

"We have a base in the States now. That helps me on the PGA and in the big events. That's definitely helped my form at the moment and my game has matured. I have as a person, too. 90% of my game is consistent at the moment. Only my putting is lacking. If I can add that, I can contend and putting myself in the mix last week was great. That's the buzz, that why I get up every morning. Hopefully I can give myself more chances in the next couple of years."

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On loving the Majors:

"I love Major Championship. I love big weeks. It's the atmosphere. Last year I struggled with no crowds. It was hard to get yourself to the right levels of intensity. The Masters in April and last week was great."

On what he's learned about the Majors:

"I'm 34 and I'm maturing. When I get to the big weeks I know what happens. You have tough runs. You have good runs. When you have the good runs you have to make the most of them, take advantage. I did that last week. At the same time, I'm delighted with the fourth, but I was quite disappointed leaving because it's a tournament I could have won. I struggled on the greens but they were weird. It was very hard to hole putts, not for Phil perhaps. But they were hard to read. Even on 18 on Sunday, I misread by a cup from eight feet and yet it felt like a decent putt. It was that was type of week."

On missing out on his defence last summer:

"When I heard the news of the cancellation I was disappointed. But I didn't pack the jug away, still had it there. The decision was made in April so I knew from then. Everyone had to make tough decisions and I look at it this way: I'll prefer defending in front of crowds this year than defending in front of no-one last year."

On returning to the Open:

"Defending a Major will be a new experience, I'm very excited. I'll be disappointed to hand back the Claret Jug but I can assure you it's in good shape, very shiny. It feels like a long time since Royal Portrush and, in my opinion, the Open is one of, if not the greatest, of our championships."

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On looking after the Claret Jug:

"I've had an amazing time with it and I did have a couple of drinks out of it. Also, I was wheeling the Jug through the hotel one time and this guy said, 'Is that the Claret Jug?' He begged me to see it. He held it and he started to cry. That's what it means to people. To share that, it's been incredible."

On the prospect of the 150th Open at St Andrews next year:

"It'll be amazing. I played my first Open there in 2010 and I've always said it was one of my best experiences in golf. It doesn't get any better than walking down that first fairway and walking up 18 in the Open on the Old Course with big crowds. I'm sure they have some big ideas. I believe they have a Champions Dinner, I'm really looking forward to that. Just very grateful. For me it doesn't get any bigger than the Open in St Andrews. To win it there might just top winning in Ireland."

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