Co-leader Spieth overshadowed but relishing Woods battle
While all the attention was on Tiger Woods putting together his best major round in seven years, the American who has come closest to replicating peak Tiger’s dominance was quietly putting himself in pole position to retain the Claret Jug.
Jordan Spieth has not yet generated the rabid following of Woods, so while Carnoustie was understandably rocking at the 42-year-old rolling back the years, the defending champion was flying under the radar despite accruing shots at a remarkable rate.
Tiger’s superbly scrambled par at 18 earned whoops and hollers that shook the Angus links’ foundations; Spieth’s equally impressive iron into the green from the left rough that helped him save par earned polite applause.
But the reality is that if Woods’ round of 66 was brilliant, then Spieth’s 65 was sensational and a fourth major title in as many years is within the 24-year-old’s grasp as he heads into Sunday at nine-under – co-leader with fellow Americans Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner.
On the Tiger trail
Tiger is four shots behind at five under but the fact the 14-time major winner is in contention at all will mean the eyes of the sporting world are on The Open, something Spieth is relishing.
“The way that Tiger is striking those two or three irons, he's certainly going to be in it, which is really exciting for us,” said Spieth.
“I've always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger. Who hasn't? It's kind of a dream come true just to have the opportunity.
“It's nice that he's on point. It's really good for the sport, with all the extra interest. It's very cool looking at it from a big picture, but my head will be down.
“There's a lot of guys in contention but we’ll have a totally different golf course tomorrow with the wind.”
The tone was set when Spieth pulled out driver at the first and crunched the ball straight down the fairway and on to the green, leaving himself a ten-foot putt for eagle which circled the lip of the hole and dropped.
Birdies at four, 11, 14 and 16 followed before he salvaged par at 18 – the Texan posting a bogey-free round, where Woods dropped a stroke at 16.
Twelve months ago at Royal Birkdale, Spieth successfully duelled Matt Kuchar in a head-to-head to claim his maiden Claret Jug but this time he will have to hold off a slew of players within striking distance
Have a gander at Xander
Schauffele had a rollercoaster round of 67, where six birdies were joined by two bogeys, but he looks set to improve on the tied-20th he achieved in his only Open appearance last year and is looking forward to playing alongside Spieth in the final group.
“Jordan is such a nice guy,” said Schauffele. “If anything, we can hopefully get something going, and we can start feeding off each other.
“He won last year and he's playing great golf right now. So I think he'd be a lot of fun.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions. I wasn't the guy to shoot 61, I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.
“So maybe there's something to that and hopefully it can help me tomorrow if the wind gets up.”
Kisner fighting history
Overnight co-leader Kevin Kisner retained that position with an error-free 68 that saw him birdie holes three, six and 14 and he has a chance to match Spieth from 2017 in being a wire-to-wire winner of The Open.
He’s battling against history, with only one third-round leader going on to lift the Claret Jug at Carnoustie – Ben Hogan in 1953 – but his play this week suggests he has as good a chance as Spieth to end that drought.
"It was the most solid tee to green I've played all week," he said.
"I really am feeling more comfortable with the long game. I did not hole the amount of putts I had the first two days, but the conditions got tough coming down the stretch and made a couple of nice par putts coming in and put myself right in perfect position to have a chance to win."