Spieth on course to be eighth first-time Open winner in last nine years
The golfing gods have spread their largesse widely at The Open over the last seven years.
During that time Ernie Els (2012) has been the only repeat champion and with one round to go it looks as if the Championship is destined to produce another first-time winner to follow in the footsteps of Stewart Cink (2009), Louis Oosthuizen (2010), Darren Clarke (2011), Phil Mickelson (2013), Rory McIlroy (2014), Zach Johnson (2015) and Henrik Stenson last year.
The one man who might be able to end that run is last year’s champion Stenson who goes into the last 18 holes eight shots behind leader, Jordan Spieth, after adding a 65 to his opening rounds of 69 and 73.
However, it is a tough ask, even for someone of the Stenson’s calibre.
Stenson’s problem is not just that he trails behind World No. 3 Spieth, but that he will also have to overhaul Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka, Austin Connelly, Branden Grace and Hideki Matsuyama in order to collect his second successive Claret Jug. This is no ordinary leaderboard because, with 18 holes to go, four of the World’s top-ten feature in the top-ten places and a couple of other top-20 players are just outside that mark.
When he finished his round, the Swede suggested that, if he was to defend his title, he may well have to go lower than the 63 he shot in the final round at Royal Troon last year. Maybe even lower than the 62 that Branden Grace carded earlier in the day to set a new major championship record.
“If the leaders keep on making birdies, a 63 might not be good enough,” admitted the defending champion. “We’ll see. I’m happy with the way I played today and hopefully I should move up the leaderboard. But we will have to wait and see.”
What is also highly unlikely is that there is to be a first British winner in ten Championships at Royal Birkdale or, for that matter, a first English champion at any venue since Nick Faldo claimed the last of three Open titles at Muirfield exactly 25 years ago.
The leading British players are Ross Fisher, Ritchie Ramsay, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter who all start the final round at two-under-par 208 and a distant nine shots adrift of Spieth. Fisher did his cause a world of good by carding a third round 66 but the others stagnated on a day when anything worse than a 67 meant giving ground to the field.
The one home player who is all-but certain to collect a trophy is Alfie Plant who is guaranteed the Silver Medal awarded to the leading amateur provided he completes his final round. The 25-year-old English international added a 69 to his opening rounds of 71 and 73 to go into the last day standing at three-over-par 213. No mean feat.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’ve been relaxed all week, but it’s a lot easier when the sun is shining, so I’ve had a really good day.
“It means the world to be here at The Open,” he added. “There’s been a couple of times I’ve sat down on a bank just to make sure I’ve taken it all in. Now I’ve got to focus on tomorrow and try to finish well.”
Stenson, and the other challengers, may need to do a lot more than that if they are to catch the rampant Spieth.