Jordan Spieth wasn't happy when he gave back the Claret Jug upon his arrival Monday at Carnoustie. The defending champion might be taking it home again on Sunday.
On a wild day at The 147th Open that included a Tiger Woods charge, lots of eagles and birdies and a few collapses, Spieth emerged as the 54-hole co-leader with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner after a flawless 6-under 65.
“I just wanted to give myself a chance after the first round, and I've done well over the two days,” Spieth said.
The trio of proven winners are at 9 under par, two strokes clear of Kevin Chappell (67) and three ahead of Francesco Molinari (65).
Sitting four shots back is a group of seven players with plenty of juicy storylines. It starts with Woods, who ignited the crowd Saturday with a 5-under 66. He’s joined by Rory McIlroy (70), Players champion Webb Simpson (67), Matt Kuchar (70), Alex Noren (67), Tommy Fleetwood (71) and 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year Zach Johnson (72).
The bad news for this group is 15 of the last 18 Open champions were at or within three strokes of the lead after 54 holes.
While Schauffele and Kisner will be looking to transform their careers by winning their first major, Spieth is once again playing for the record books.
At just 24 years old, Spieth is seeking his fourth major title, and he would join Woods and Young Tom Morris as the only players to win four majors before the age of 25. Spieth would also be the first repeat winner at The Open since Padraig Harrington in 2007-08.
But history will not be on Spieth’s mind Sunday. He’s been simply trying to get his game back on track after not winning a tournament since last year at Royal Birkdale.
“I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anyone at this point,” he said. “I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year.
“And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
Thanks to little wind or rain this week, Carnoustie hasn’t lived up to its brutish reputation. But that didn’t mean it was a cakewalk for all the contenders. Still looking to win his first major, Rickie Fowler was the first marquee name to falter when he tugged his drive left on No. 6 OB. He made triple bogey and was never heard from again.
Johnson, who shared the 36-hole lead with Kisner, stumbled badly with a bogey on 11, a double on 12 and a deflating bogey on 17.
But they were part of a small group of players who failed to take advantage of perfect scoring conditions. Justin Rose showed his colleagues early on Saturday that the course was primed for low numbers when he posted a 7-under 64, his career low in a major. He was just the warmup act.
Woods said he watched the early coverage and strode onto the course with a more aggressive mindset. The three-time Open champion cut loose with his driver on several holes where he had been hitting irons or fairway woods.
The strategy paid off handsomely. Woods matched his solid ball-striking with a few key putts and it added up to six birdies and a bogey, giving the 42-year-old, 14-time major champion a chance Sunday to complete one of the greatest comeback stories in sports.
But with a leaderboard full of major champions and proven winners, Woods wasn’t ready to talk about the significance of major No. 15.
“We're not there yet,” he said. “I know what you're trying to say in asking, but let me try and get there first. Then ask me again.”
With the wind expected to pick up for the final round, Woods – and anyone else chasing the lead – will have to post another low number and hope the leaders struggle with the conditions.
“We're supposed to get the same direction of wind tomorrow but stronger,” Woods said. “We'll see how these guys play.”