Carnoustie – Jordan Spieth is dreaming of retaining the Claret Jug after a standout third round at The Open on Saturday left him in a share of the overall lead with fellow Americans Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner.
The trio were locked together on nine under par at the end of a thrilling day in perfect conditions at Carnoustie, but at least a dozen other players are still right in contention, among them Tiger Woods after he rolled back the years on the Scottish links.
Spieth had started the day at three-under for the tournament, but made his intentions clear with a stunning eagle at the par-4 first hole – the rest of his round featured four birdies and not a single dropped shot for a six-under-par 65.
Now he finds himself primed to follow up his victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago and become the first golfer to retain the British Open title since Padraig Harrington a decade ago.
“I feel like my game’s in good shape. It’s progressed nicely. We’ve got pretty much a new tournament tomorrow,” said Spieth, who had popped into Carnoustie town centre for a haircut before his round.
Spieth would never admit if that was in order to look smart for the victory photos on Sunday, and in any case he is not getting ahead of himself given how tight the leaderboard is, and that the wind is finally expected to pick up.
“I’m not ahead of myself at all. I just wanted to give myself a chance after the first round (he was at one-over), and I’ve done well over the two days,” he added.
Kisner, with whom Spieth is sharing a house in Scotland this week, had started the day in a share of the lead with Zach Johnson and cemented his strong position with a bogey-free 68.
“Today was the most solid tee to green I’ve played all week,” said Kisner, who has never won a major, although he also led going into the final round of last year’s US PGA Championship before finishing tied for seventh.
Meanwhile Schauffele, at 24 the same age as Spieth, shot a 67 to considerably boost his own chances of a first major victory.
With Kevin Chappell the nearest challenger to the leading trio on seven-under, the prospects of a sixth consecutive major being won by an American are high, but there is still hope for the European contingent.
Italy’s Francesco Molinari had a bogey-free 65 and is six-under, while Sweden’s Alex Noren is at five-under along with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood.
The latter two were unable to convert positions of strength, with McIlroy’s 70 featuring four bogeys and Fleetwood having an inconsistent 71.
“We’ll see. The wind is supposed to pick up, so that might be a helping hand,” said Fleetwood of his chances of becoming the first English winner of the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
The group on five-under also includes Johnson and Woods, who captivated huge galleries as he shot a 66, arguably his best round in a major for a decade.
Woods even had luck on his side at the 18th, when his drive landed a foot away from the Barry Burn only to bounce away from the water to the relative safety of the long grass – he then salvaged a par after a tremendous approach shot.
“That was good. I played well today. I really did. I hit a lot of good shots. I really didn’t feel like I really made a bad swing until 18,” he said.
Woods is still a huge draw, with his playing partner, South Africa’s Shaun Norris saying it was “like playing with a mythical creature”, and if he can emerge from the pack to win the title on Sunday it would probably be his greatest victory yet.
History shows that almost anything can happen at Carnoustie, where Paul Lawrie won in a playoff in 1999 after starting the day 10 shots back.
Even those in the large group at four-under will still believe in their chances, including England’s Justin Rose, who produced a seven-under-par 64 early in the day.
That equalled the lowest round in an Open at Carnoustie set by Steve Stricker and Richard Green here in 2007.