Jordan Spieth remains in total control of his Open ambitions
Ice-cool Texan cards 65 to take three-shot lead; Branden Grace cards historic 62
Jordan Spieth reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the third round of the British Open at Royal Birkdale in Southport. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images
As one embraced history, with Branden Grace establishing a record low score of 62 in any men’s Major, another – inch by inch, step by step – took strides of his own towards golfing greatness as Jordan Spieth took a stranglehold on this 146th Open championship over the Lancashire links of Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
Grace made the most of dry, calm conditions and the R&A’s decision to encourage aggressive play – some tees were moved forward and pin placements were generous – to do what no man has ever achieved in a Major, recording a round of 62 and, in so doing, jump 40 places up the leaderboard up to tied-fourth.
But, as at the start of the third round, it was 23-year-old Spieth – already a winner of the US Masters and US Open in his short, stellar career – who moved closer towards adding the Claret Jug to his collection.
A third round 65 for 11-under-par 199 left Spieth in pole position, his round encapsulated by a closing birdie in front of the packed grandstands surrounding the 18th green: it gave Spieth a three-stroke lead over fellow American Matt Kuchar – at the age of 39 chasing his maiden Major – with US Open champion Brooks Koepka and 20-year-old Canadian Austin Conneely in tied-third but all of six shots behind the leader.
Spieth, an imperious frontrunner, is in control; and should he manage to finish off the job, something he has done five of six times when holding the 54-hole lead in tournaments, the ice-cool Texan will have just one Major title left – the US PGA – to achieve the career Grand Slam, possibly as early as next month’s championship at Quail Hollow.
For now, it’s about ensuring the British Open title is won.
And Spieth’s control of his game – hitting 64 per cent of fairways and 78 per cent of greens – in the third round enabled him to put clearer daylight between himself and his pursuers. Kuchar, to his credit, kept in touch for much of the round. But as an amber weather alert was issued for the later groups left out on the course, and as the rain fell, Kuchar ran up a double bogey six on the 16th.
Spieth’s only time not to follow through on a 54-hole lead came in last year’s Masters. He led by one overnight at Augusta and birdied the opening four holes of his final round to open up a five-shot advantage, only to have a meltdown that saw him eventually finish three shots behind Danny Willett.
Can he learn from that? “I think I am in a position where it can be very advantageous, everything I have gone through, the good, the bad and everything in the middle. I understand leads can be squandered quickly and I also understand how you can continue to build on one. So, it was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward,” said Spieth, who has the chance to do just that.
Rory McIlroy lost ground, a third round 69 for two-under 208 left the Northern Irishman in tied-11th and frustrated with a mid-round blip that ultimately proved costly. McIlroy had hit the ground running with three birdies in his opening five holes – including a chip-in birdie on the fourth – but bogeys on the seventh and eighth and a double-bogey on the 10th took all the wind from his sails.
That double was very costly, after his tee shot was sent down the left where it caught one of the two fairway bunkers on the dogleg. But McIlroy would visit both of them. His first bunker shot – played too quickly – barely escaped the trap, only to trickle into the next only five yards further up. His third shot was pulled left of the green, and he then failed to get up and down from the greenside rough. There were no further dropped shots coming home, but only one further birdie to embellish his scorecard.
“I took the wrong club on 10 off the tee. You either hit a club that stays short of all those bunkers or you take a club that at least only brings the traps up at 300 into play and I did neither, so that was a really bad club off the tee,” admitted McIlroy, who added:
“It’s hard to think big picture now, I’m just off the golf course and I’m a little disappointed. This week has been a step in the right direction, there’s no doubt about it. And I need to pick myself up, play a good round [Sunday] and hope for some bad weather and hope for some guys to struggle. I definitely feel like this was an opportunity lost to get right in the mix going into [the final round].”
Earlier in the day, South African Grace didn’t realise he’d made history, until his caddie – on the 18th hole – told him so. “I didn’t know what was going on, I promise you,” insisted the South African, after breaking the spell which had been cast over among others Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson. Everyone, in fact.
Up to Grace’s birdie on the 18th, no fewer than 31 players – which started with Johnny Miller in the 1973 US Open – had recorded 63s in the men’s Majors. The South African’s 62 enabled him to become a history-maker: “I honestly didn’t know,” he expanded, adding: “I was just so in the zone of playing, hole after hole . . . I had no idea 62 was the lowest ever. It makes it even more special.”
Of those 63s through history, only two have come at the Masters, four at the US Open, nine at the Open and 13 at the US PGA. Now, all those have been consigned to history of their own. Grace made himself the history-maker, albeit seven shots adrift of the man – Spieth – chasing true greatness.
FINAL ROUND TEE-TIMES
07:55 Danny Willett (Eng)
08:05 Sung-hoon Kang (Kor), Aaron Baddeley (Aus)
08:15 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Sean O’Hair (USA)
0825 Russell Henley (USA), Kevin Kisner (USA)
08:35 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa)
08:45 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Webb Simpson (USA)
08:55 Kent Bulle (USA), Laurie Canter (Eng)
09:05 Soren Kjeldsen (Den), JB Holmes (USA)
09:15 Martin Kaymer (Ger), Jimmy Walker (USA)
09:25 Daniel Berger (USA), Xander Schauffele (USA)
09:40 James Hahn (USA), Joseph Dean (Eng)
09:50 Toby Tree (Eng), Andy Sullivan (Eng)
10:00 Lee Westwood (Eng), Young-Han Song (Kor)
10:10 Justin Rose (Eng), Gary Woodland (USA)
10:20 Yi-Keun Chang (Kor), Adam Scott (Aus)
10:30 Jon Rahm (Esp), Andrew Dodt (Aus)
10:40 KT Kim (Kor), Peter Uihlein (USA)
10:50 Alfie Plant (Eng, am), Brandon Stone (Rsa)
11:00 Charley Hoffman (USA), Zach Johnson (USA)
11:10 Thomas Pieters (Bel), Bubba Watson (USA)
11:25 Ernie Els (Rsa), Haotong Li (Chn)
11:35 Steve Stricker (USA), Kevin Na (USA)
11:45 Chris Wood (Eng), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha)
11:55 Matthew Southgate (Eng), David Drysdale (Sco)
12:05 Marc Leishman (Aus), Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)
12:15 Jamie Lovemark (USA), Joost Luiten (Ned)
12:25 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng)
12:35 Andrew Johnston (Eng), Paul Casey(Eng)
12:45 Tony Finau (USA), Jason Dufner (USA)
12:55 Jason Day (Aus), Scott Hend (Aus)
13:10 Shaun Norris (Rsa), Richard Bland (Eng)
13:20 Alex Noren (Swe), Rickie Fowler (USA)
13:30 Ian Poulter (Eng), Richie Ramsay (Sco)
13:40 Rory McIlroy (NI), Ross Fisher (Eng)
13:50 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Chan Kim (USA)
14:00 Henrik Stenson (Swe), Dustin Johnson (USA)
14:10 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Branden Grace (Rsa)
14:20 Brooks Koepka (USA), Austin Connelly (Can)
14:30 Matt Kuchar (USA), Jordan Spieth (USA)