Spieth leaves rivals trailing in his wake
Jordan Spieth will take a lead of three strokes over Matt Kuchar into the final round of The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale on Sunday as he bids to win the Claret Jug for the first time in his short and triumphant career.
In his current form, the two-time major champion will take some stopping.
Spieth had a bogey-free third round of 65 on Saturday – his second in three days - for an 11-under-par total of 199. That his score beat by six strokes the previous record for 54 holes in The Open at Birkdale, set by Tom Watson in 1983, spoke volumes for the quality of his play.
Kuchar, who had a 66, did well to stick with his playing partner for most of the third round, but a double bogey at the 16th and a missed short putt for a birdie at the last undid his challenge. As if to rub salt into his wounds, his fellow American birdied the 18th from around 18 feet.
It is not over by any means, but Spieth has the look of invincibility about him. He has held, or shared, the lead since the first round and is the only player who could have four rounds under 70 this week, a feat achieved by Henrik Stenson in winning at Royal Troon in 2016.
Both Spieth and Kuchar’s aim at the start of the day was to separate themselves from the chasing pack and to play alongside each other again in the final round. With Austin Connelly and Bruce Koepka lying six strokes off the lead in joint third place, they have achieved their aim. More importantly, perhaps, Dustin Johnson and Stenson, two of the most dangerous players in the top ten, are a further two strokes behind.
As they approached the 18th green, Kuchar came across to Spieth and told him to soak up the atmosphere. It was, he said, too good to take for granted.
“When Matt came over and said that, I had already started to appreciate that,” Spieth said. “But, yeah, it was a fun walk.
“I think these crowds are second to none. They're the most educated golf fans. And that 18th hole walk is a really, really special thing to do, whether it's Monday in a practice round or it's Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”
As well as the two leaders played, the honours for the best round of the day went to South Africa’s Branden Grace, whose score of 62 was the lowest ever recorded in any of the four major championships.
In perfect conditions for low scoring – winds down to a gentle breeze and greens and fairways softened by overnight rain – Grace landed eight birdies in all and did not drop a shot. He reached the turn in 29 and came home in 33, oblivious to the fact that a par at the 18th hole would set a record for the men’s game.
“I knocked in the two-footer or three-footer for par and Zack (caddie Zack Rasego) came up and said, ‘You're in the history books.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Now it makes the day even sweeter.”
What Rory McIlroy would have given for such a score. When he picked up three birdies in his first five holes to move to four under par, he was within two strokes of Spieth and more than daring to dream. Sadly for him, it was not to last.
When Spieth and Kuchar started to pull away from the field, the Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014 started to head in the opposite direction, undone by back-to-back bogeys at the 7th and 8th and a double bogey at the 10th. He finished the day on two under par after a round of 69 and lies nine strokes off the lead.
Ian Poulter will also feel that his chances of lifting the Claret Jug have passed him by. The Englishman battled hard to make inroads on the leaderboard but ended the day on the same score as McIlroy, after a round of 71, and alongside two other British players, Ross Fisher and Richie Ramsay.