Jordan Spieth laid out his stall from the moment he drove the first green at Carnoustie today and sank the putt for an opening eagle on the 396-yard par four. Like a champion boxer who had been trading jabs with a difficult opponent, he suddenly decided it was time to land some heavy blows.
Spieth, the 2017 Champion Golfer, went on to complete a bogey-free round of 65, for a total of 204, and will now head into the final round of The 147th Open seeking to administer the knockout blow. Alongside him, on nine under par, are fellow Americans Kevin Kisner, with whom he is sharing accommodation this week, and Xander Schauffele.
With three Majors to his name already, Spieth has an old head on his 24-year-old shoulders. He knows he will not get it all his own way, particularly if the predicted 15-20mph winds materialise, but such is the aura he exudes at The Open that in everybody’s books he will be the man to beat.
There are 16 players within five shots of the leaders and many are capable of returning very low rounds, particularly on a course that has yet to fully bare its teeth. The third round was played from start to finish in benign conditions and the low scoring reflected the fact.
Among those hoping to be quick off the mark on Sunday are Rory McIlroy, whose up and down round of 70 left him four strokes off the pace, and Tommy Fleetwood, who was unable to reproduce the fireworks of his second-round 65 but who knows that another very low round is within him.
After all, the Englishman finished runner-up at the US Open last month after a record-equalling final round of 63. Also on five under par is Tiger Woods, who will be dreaming of a return to the winner’s circle at a Major championship for the first time since 2008.
“It’s been a few years since I felt like this,” he said. “I didn’t want to be too far back if the guys got to ten under par today. I had to stay within reach – and five (strokes) is definitely within reach.”
Four is even better.
There is good news and bad news for those hoping to mount a challenge from out of the pack. The bad news is that in the 18 Open Championships played since 2000, 11 of the winners led the field heading into the final day.
One of those happened to be Spieth, whose victory at Royal Birkdale last year was as dramatic as they come. It looked as if he had blown his chances over the first 13 holes before he stormed through the last five holes for a stunning victory, the sort that sends shockwaves through the game. At times like these, he seems invincible.
The good news is that two players – Ernie Els in 2012 and Padraig Harrington in 2007 - have made up as many as six shots on the final day en route to becoming Champion Golfer. Phil Mickelson made up five shots in 2013, while Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Ben Curtis (2015, 2009 and 2003) all made up three.
Some will take heart from the fact that Harrington’s victory came at Carnoustie, where he chased down Sergio Garcia and then beat the brilliant Spaniard in a play-off.
And who could forget Paul Lawrie’s wonderful performance here in 1999, when the 30-year-old from Aberdeen made up a staggering ten strokes to get into a play-off, which he won, with Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard?
What this illustrates is that there is plenty still to be played for. The signs are that Spieth will take some stopping, but with the course’s fearsome final four holes to be negotiated, and with the wind expected to freshen, nothing can be taken for granted.
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