Who to watch on moving day
It's starting to get serious. Saturday at The Open is one of the most exciting days in golf, challenge can start, early leaders can falter and it's all going to unfold in the next few hours. Here's what to look out for today at Royal Birkdale.
Moving Day – time to get moving
Saturday's third round is traditionally the day for a big charge – just ask Ian Baker-Finch, the Champion Golfer of the Year here at Royal Birkdale in 1991.
Coming into the third round, the Australian was six shots behind a trio of leaders but fired a brilliant 64 to move into a share of the final round lead. Another 66 on the final day and he won by two shots – his place in history secured.
All of which will be heartening to anyone within a handful of shots of leader Jordan Spieth, including former champion Rory McIlroy.
Nothing fires up the crowd quite like Rory on the charge and this place could start rocking if he starts posting some early red numbers. He tees off with American Gary Woodland at 3.25pm in a group that will surely attract the day's biggest gallery.
How well can Jordan Spieth handle the pressure?
In his young career, Jordan Spieth has made grinding out victories his bread and butter, but it’s impossible to forget what happened the last time he lead a major.
With all signs pointing to a wire-to-wire triumph at the 2016 Masters Tournament – with Spieth leading through rounds one, two, and three at Augusta National – a devastating quadruple bogey seven at the 12th handed the green jacket to Danny Willett instead.
But the 23-year-old’s record when leading majors is not exactly poor. He’s led four times in majors before, winning two and finishing second in the other two.
If you’re waiting for the Texan to have a scorecard destroying meltdown, don’t hold your breath. Spieth tees off alongside Matt Kuchar at 3.55pm.
Will the wait continue for an English winner?
Much has been made of the fact an English golfer hasn't won The Open since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992. Ian Poulter – who tied for second here in 2008 – has looked in impressive form and leads the home challenge after a 67 and 70 in the worst conditions of the opening two rounds.
Poulter is off in the penultimate group with US Open champion Brooks Koepka, but don't forget there's another Englishmen in the mix too.
It's fair to say not many people were talking about Richard Bland when he arrived on Monday. He made his Open debut in 1998 at Royal Birkdale and hasn't played in the tournament since.
He missed the cut 19 years ago, making £800 for his efforts, but will tee it up alongside one-time top amateur Jamie Lovemark, just six shots off the pace at 3.45pm. What a story that would be.
Can Kuch keep up the pace?
Matt Kuchar is a perennial PGA Tour top-tenner – indeed so much so that his fellow pros call him ‘Mr Top Ten’, and he has won the most money on tour of anyone without a major title.
He goes out in the final group alongside Jordan Spieth, who he knows extremely well having been in his ‘pod’ for the last two Ryder Cups.
Having played the Scottish Open last week, he is well in tune with links golf, and spending yesterday afternoon with his feet up in the hotel room rather than getting beaten up by the weather can only have helped his preparations for today’s round.
Spieth is an ice-cool customer, but all those in the chasing pack will be looking to the usually friendly Kuchar to get his game face on and try and put a little pressure on the overnight leader.
Plant goes toe-to-toe with Pieters
Alfie Plant – assuming he completes all four rounds – has the Silver Medal sewn up here at Royal Birkdale, and plays today with rising Belgian star Thomas Pieters.
He will almost certainly have a larger gallery today by virtue of playing with the Ryder Cup hero, but that shouldn’t phase the 25-year-old Englishman, who has the biggest fan club of any player this week.
Plant’s friends and family have all journeyed up to Southport in their droves and defied the elements yesterday to roar their support for every shot the Englishman hit – with one particularly memorable banner encouraging him to ‘do it for your nan!’
He has some pretty good company as Silver Medal winner, with Justin Rose and Chris Wood the last two to claim the honour of leading amateur at The Open here at Royal Birkdale.
Rose, Wood, Plant - is there something going on with these names? Plant gets his third round underway at 11.05am.
Koepka inspired by 'SuperMex'
Brooks Koepka will join a list of golfing superstars should he win this week – and is following in the footsteps of the legendary Lee Trevino.
Trevino arrived at Royal Birkdale in 1971 as the US Open champion and duly walked off with the Claret Jug. Tiger Woods was the last US Open champion to win The Open a few weeks later in 2000, and before that it was Tom Watson in 1982.
Further back in history and Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan also completed the rare double. Not bad company to aspire to keep.
Koepka likes to fly under the radar and having someone to chase, and sits just three shots behind Jordan Spieth. He plays alongside Ian Poulter and will revel in the big crowd that will follow.
Yesterday the wind and the rain arrived in style, falling so heavily that play had to be briefly suspended to allow the greenkeepers to squeegee the greens.
As ever at The Open, the weather will play a significant role and everyone in contention will anxiously have their eyes on the skies.
This morning looks far calmer, with overcast skies and a gentle breeze allowing those out early doors the chance to steal a march on those above them.
The wind is expected to pick up slightly this afternoon, but with no rain expected (for now) and even some sunny spells possible, those at the top of the leaderboard shouldn’t be at a disadvantage today.