Louis Oosthuizen will take a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa into the final round of The 149th Open after an absorbing day three at Royal St George’s.
Oosthuizen – who also led after 18 and 36 holes – battled his way to a one-under round of 69 in the Sandwich sunshine and will start tomorrow with a second Claret Jug in his sights, 11 years after his maiden success at St Andrews.
Open debutant Morikawa had a chance to join him on -12 with a birdie putt on 18 but it did not threaten the hole and he will have to chase again on Sunday.
Jordan Spieth will start the final round three shots back after he matched Oosthuizen’s 69. But the 2017 Champion Golfer will be kicking himself after two late bogeys spoiled what was an otherwise fine afternoon.
Scottie Scheffler and Corey Conners hold fourth place on -8, while there is a cluster of players at -7 and -6 – including Jon Rahm – who won’t have given up hope of becoming Champion Golfer of the Year.
OOSTHUIZEN SHOWS GUTS TO RETAIN OPEN LEAD
Oosthuizen might have been sinking putts for fun on his way to scores of 64 and 65 on the first two days, but this might be his most impressive round of the week.
At one stage on Saturday, it had appeared the 38-year-old would take The 149th Open by the scruff of the neck and run away with it – just as Shane Lowry so memorably did at Royal Portrush in 2019.
After six pars to start, Oosthuizen – who started on -11 – picked up a birdie at the par-5 7th and backed it up with a sublime birdie at 9 by holing a gorgeous putt with plenty of right-to-left break. It felt ominous.
But then the tide started to turn on the back nine. His tee shots were missing fairways, irons were missing greens and putts were missing holes.
Bogeys on 11 and 13 wiped out the two earlier birdies and he fell back to -11, no longer leading outright.
There was real concern Spieth and Morikawa – who joined him at -11 for a three-way tie - would go past the South African but a gutsy par-save at 15 relieved some of Oosthuizen’s tension.
That put a pep in his step and he went to the 16th tee and nailed a pin-point iron to within ten feet of the hole. The subsequent birdie put him back in the lead again.
Danger averted, he collected two further pars at 17 and 18 to retain an advantage and he can be assured of another late tee time on Sunday.
Alongside him will once again be Morikawa, who proved his majestic 64 on Friday was no flash in the pan.
The 24-year-old started badly, bogeying the 2nd and 5th holes to fall four strokes off the lead, but a birdie on 7 and monster putt for another on 8 sparked his round back into life.
Once again, his iron play was sublime but – unlike on Friday – the putter could not cash in, as several birdie chances slipped agonisingly past the hole.
But two more birdies came on 13 and 14 for a round of 68 and his bid to become the first Open debutant to win since Ben Curtis in 2003, at the same course, is very much alive.
SPIETH FADES LATE
He may start the final day of a major just three shots off the lead but Jordan Spieth has plenty to be angry about after a sloppy finish.
The American left the 16th green on -11 and a share of the lead but back-to-back bogeys saw that shrivel to -9 and dampen what was a shaping up to be a fine day’s play.
Trailing by three strokes when he arrived on the 1st, Spieth knew he had to apply some heat to the final pairing and he got off to a glorious start with birdies at 2 and 4.
A bogey soon followed at 5 but the American was the best show in town for a while as he picked up further shots on 6, 7 and 10. His driving was consistent, his irons found greens, he got a few kind breaks with the ball bouncing favourably and seemingly everything he putted went in.
The back nine seemed to be playing easier than the front for much of the day but Spieth’s round soon turned into a battle as he lost discipline off the tee.
Too many times he was digging his ball out of thick rough and it was again his putter – a consistent force throughout his career – that kept him in touch.
However, he could not prevent dropped shots at 11 and 17, while a missed two-footer for par at 18 rubbed salt into the wound. He showed enough to suggest he will be a major force tomorrow but knows he can ill-afford such errors again.
Saturday morning’s leaderboard may have shown the three main protagonists out front, but at least a dozen players were lurking over their shoulders and waiting to pounce.
Major winners such as Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia were all within striking distance but none of them mounted a serious challenge on a tougher set-up.
Johnson’s struggles were a particular surprise given how easy his 65 appeared on Friday, but he was wayward off the tee all day and bogeyed five of the first 11 holes.
He found two birdies late on to sign for a 73 but his Championship chances now appear slim at best, just as they do for Koepka.
The four-time major winner predicted he would be right in the mix come Sunday – so consistently strong he tends to be in majors – so a two-over round of 72 was perhaps as surprising to him as to everyone else.
As the big guns faltered, others stepped up. Canadian Corey Conners has hardly been mentioned this week but a bogey-free 66 sees him hold T4 place overnight on -8, while his compatriot Mackenzie Hughes is one stroke back.
Scottie Scheffler joins Conners on -8 after a quietly impressive 69, while Dylan Frittelli, who was alongside Spieth, carded an even-par 70 and starts at -7.
But the leaders may be most worried about Rahm, who found three birdies in the final seven holes for a 68 that also moved him to -7 – five strokes back is a lot but if anyone can overcome it, the reigning US Open champion can.
And don’t forget the group at -6, featuring Germany’s charismatic Marcel Siem who recovered from a triple-bogey 8 at the par-5 14th to record two birdies in the final three holes.
The odds of a first English winner since Sir Nick Faldo in 1992 appear remote, with Paul Casey and Andy Sullivan the leading home hopefuls on -5.
It was an unspectacular 70 from Casey, who struggled to find top gear, while Sullivan birdied the last to get round in 71.
Danny Willett (70) is a stroke further back on -4 after he – like Siem – went out of bounds on the 14th, while Justin Rose (70), Matt Wallace (69) and Aaron Rai (68) start tomorrow on -3.
Tommy Fleetwood found three birdies but also three bogeys as his 70 left him at -2.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre will fancy his chances of finishing as the highest Brit after a stellar 65 propelled him up to -4 and T18.
CHAMPION GOLFERS FLASH THEIR BEST
A second Claret Jug seems unlikely for Shane Lowry but the defending Champion was again consistent and a -1 round of 69 puts him at -5 for the Championship. A top-ten finish will be in his sights.
He’s four strokes clear of Rory McIlroy, who lit up Royal St George’s in the morning. The 2014 Champion Golfer found five birdies on the front nine to suggest he could make a charge but three straight bogeys saw him come home in 38 and he’s at -1 for the week.
SILVER MEDAL BATTLE
Matthias Schmid is in pole position for the Silver Medal, as his battle with Yuxin Lin goes to the final day.
Schmid – who shot a 65 to equal the record for the lowest round in Open history by an amateur on Friday – carded a solid 70 and will start Sunday at level-par for the Championship.
Lin hit the first shot of the day and played on his own this morning but a frustrating birdie-free round of 74 pushes him out to +5.