Lowry holds U.S. Open lead heading into Sunday at Oakmont

Shane Lowry reacts after making a birdie on the ninth hole during the rain-delayed second round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Saturday.
Shane Lowry reacts after making a birdie on the ninth hole during the rain-delayed second round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Saturday. AP photo

After pulling his ball from the cup with his right hand, Shane Lowry turned, his thick, burnt orange beard catching everyone’s eye against the black shirt, black pants combo, and gave a firm fist pump.

After lurking further down the leaderboard for most of the afternoon, Lowry snatched the lead.

Sitting at 5-under par, the 29-year-old Irishman is the sole leader as Saturday concluded at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

Lowry — 3-under par through 14 in the third round — will resume play at 7 a.m. Sunday after he and 26 players had their day cut short due to darkness.

Play was suspended at 8:49 p.m.

“Quite happy that we didn’t have another four holes to play,” Lowry admitted. “It’s been a long day.”

But, to Lowry’s liking, it’s been a successful one at that.

Lowry, like the six players close behind him, is making a push for his first-ever major championship. And his only professional win in the United States, last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, is an event that still feeds him confidence.

“It obviously means a lot because I beat a field of this quality already,” Lowry said. “So there’s no reason I can’t go out and do it again (Sunday).”

The 41st-ranked player in the world took sole possession of the lead on the seventh hole, with a 22-foot, right-to-left breaking putt for birdie, an impressive effort, no doubt, capped by that fist pump.

But it was his stellar showing on the 12th — an approach shot that put him within two feet from 99 yards out for a tap-in birdie — that gave him a two-shot lead and displayed what the field has to beat on Sunday.

Lowry will have to do much of the same to fend off a heap of challengers. Andrew Landry, the Thursday leader, sits at 3 under, while Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia all lie in wait at 2 under.

In addition, Branden Grace hovers at 1 under, Scott Piercy is even par, and four golfers — Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson and Daniel Summerhays — are still within an earshot at 1 over.

Dustin Johnson, the lone leader through the second round, is 2 over through 13.

The No. 6 player in the world, whose putting cost him the 2015 U.S. Open title at Chambers Bay, wasn’t totally happy with the flat stick in the third round. While he feels as though he’s hitting his putts at the right line and speed, the 31-year-old burned a few edges and had a lip-out here and there.

“I’m giving myself opportunities,” Dustin Johnson said. “At some point they will start to go in. Hopefully, that’s (Sunday).”

Garcia, meanwhile, can close in on Lowry as he finishes his third round.

The 36-year-old Spaniard is even on his round, but still has holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 to go. He’s birdied the 17th twice already this week.

Another would move Garcia, who has tied for fourth or better at least once in each of the four majors, further in the right direction.

When asked about trying to get the major monkey off his back, Garcia responded with chuckles.

“No, there’s no monkeys. That’s nonsense,” Garcia cracked. “At the end of the day, the only thing I can do is give myself chances, play well, and if it happens, it happens.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9