Open is Spieth's to win or lose

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth fist-pumps during his 65 at Birkdale today. Image: Getty

 

Jordan Spieth slammed the door shut on the Australian chances at Royal Birkdale today, and appears to have only Matt Kuchar impeding his chances of winning a first Open Championship.

Spieth will take a three-shot lead into the final round after a third-round 65 left him at 11-under par 199, a record 54-hole total for Birkdale.

Compatriot Kuchar, who carded a 66, will play in the final group and that pair have a further three-shot buffer to Austin Connelly and Brooks Koepka, the US Open champion.

That makes it virtually matchplay between Kuchar and Spieth in the final round, just as Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson went head-to-head at Royal Troon last year.

Thus far Spieth, who did not have a single bogey today, has looked invincible.

The only lingering doubt over a player who has proven himself to be brilliant at closing is his meltdown at the 2016 Masters at Augusta National, where he had a five-shot lead through nine holes of the final round before imploding.

But on the evidence presented on the links of Birkdale this week, it is hard to see that happening.

Spieth is a phenomenon, still a few days short of his 24th birthday and already a winner of the Masters and the US Open as well as two Emirates Australian Opens. The Open Championship would give him three legs of a career Grand Slam that he will surely be chasing; only five men, all legends, have won the set of the modern majors. They are Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.

Birkdale was there for the taking today  and South Africa’s Branden Grace capitalised with a new men’s major championship low of 62 to vault into the top five. Grace went out in 29 and came home in 33 with a flawless card; previously a cluster of male players had managed 63 in majors but none had gone lower.

“I knocked in the two-footer or three-footer for par and Zack (caddie Zack Rasego) came up and said, ‘You're in the history books,’ said Grace. “And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Now it makes the day even sweeter.”

Two Australians also went low – Jason Day and Scott Hend with 65s – but were unable to make any ground on Spieth. Day did not make bogey and took some advice from his wife, Ellie, after leaving the course an angry man on Friday night.

The Australian thought that he had missed the cut. “It's a lot more fun today,’’ said Day. “I honestly thought I missed the cut, that's why I stormed off. And I was like, 'this is going to be my third one in a row, and not the direction that I want to go into, especially the WGC and the PGA'. But I got lucky and I got myself into the cut line and got off to a pretty solid start today and finished off strong.’’

Ellie Day had told him he needed to relax. “My wife was saying, ‘just go out there and just play. You've got nothing to lose now, obviously. You're dead last, anyway. No matter what you're trying to prove’. It was great to get out there and shoot the score I did.’’

Hend’s round exploded late, with five consecutive birdies from the 13th, and both he and Day are tied-18th at even-par overall, 11 shots shy of the lead.

Marc Leishman is tied-29th after a nice 66 today but Adam Scott (70 today) could not make anything happen. Both he and Andrew Dodt are tied-43rd.

But it is Spieth’s to win or lose tomorrow. Walking up the last to the adulation of the crowd, Kuchar wandered over to him to advise him to soak it up. “When Matt came over and said that, I had already started to kind of appreciate that,’’ he said. “But, yes, it was a fun walk. Matt keeps things light. He's a funny guy. And I really enjoy playing golf with him. And it was cool for him to come over and kind of say something like that then.”

Asked if Augusta 2016 would be on his mind, he was philosophical. “I think I'm in a position where it can be very advantageous,  just everything I've gone through, the good, the bad, and everything in the middle,’’ he said. “I understand that leads can be squandered quickly, and I also understand how you can keep on rolling on one.

“So it was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward. And if I don't win tomorrow, it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with it was someone else's day, and I didn't play as well as I should have. And if I win tomorrow it has nothing to do with that, either.

“You're learning and it all goes into the mental process. And as I go in for the next whatever, 18, 20 hours, it's about being very positive and really staying very focused on a game plan for tomorrow. Relax, smile more. Michael (caddie Michael Greller) is doing a great job keeping us loose. It's been pretty easy. And it's not going to get any easier.

“So tomorrow will be a day that will be emotionally draining and difficult to stay very neutral in the head, but that's probably the most important thing for me to do.”

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