¡South African Branden Grace posts first ever 62 at a major ¡Jordan Spieth is three strokes in front at eleven under ¡Poulter and McIlroy fade to nine off lead as Americans charge
Grace offered us history. Birkdale offered us as many thrills on an Open Saturday as we can remember, and Jordan Spieth offered us a threeshot lead who nobody should look past, whatever their memories of last year’s Masters capitulation.
By this evening, we should envisage not only toasting the first 62 ever shot in 157 years of the majors – after, incredibly, 31 players firing 63s – but also only the second male ever to win three different majors before the age of 24.
Tiger Woods did not manage it, but Jack Nicklaus did. That is the calibre of legend against which Spieth is vying. And on a day when this rain-soaked, gust-free links has never seemed so compliant, the young Texan managed to do that most difficult of tasks for a front-runner and increase the advantage while everyone else is furiously sprinting in behind.
If Spieth picks up the Claret Jug, to go with the green jacket and the US Open trophy, he will only need the USPGA’s Wanamaker Trophy next month to complete the career grand slam. He would be the youngest ever.
There is, of course, a long, long way to go before that and his next 18 holes will not be straightforward, regardless of his commanding cushion. After a 65, with two birdies in the last four, he is on 11-under, with Matt Kuchar, his Ryder Cup partner, on eightunder after a 66.
Kuchar, 39, appeared ready to push Spieth all the way until he double-bogeyed the 16th when falling for Bikdale’s pot-bunker trap. Yet a birdie on the 17th showed this golfing bridemaid’s determination to storm the altar at last and he will again be in the final group with Spieth.
Once more it seems a two-horse scenario, but perhaps Brooks Koepka is also a challenger, the US Open challenger compiling a 68 to stand at five-under. Yet he is six behind and even though Engson, land’s Danny Willett – the 2016 Masters champion – has the evidence that Spieth is not assured of victory with a sizeable lead even on the back nine, it would take a brave person to bet against Spieth.
Alongside Koepka is a Canadian, Austin Connelly, who has the same coach as Spieth in Cameron McCormick, but none of the garlands. He is 5ft 7in and under 11st and a member of the European Tour with a best finish of eighth. His fairytale display only added more glitter to a party-like occasion.
The only black mark on a day of ticks was the R&A’s decision to accede to American TV requests and put the last group out at as late as 3.55pm. Ridiculous.
It almost gave the venerable golfing body a scorch mark on the posterior when there was a thunder and lightning warning issued at 6.15pm, the time when the leaders should really be walking up the last.
It would have been criminal to have allowed a huge, irrevocable, wet blotch to spoil this wonderful third round. We can only pray they learn the lesson. TV second; money, second. Tournament first; players and fans first. Shame on them. As it was, the climax featured pouring rain, with the punters who had been so happy, suddenly being forced to run out of the gates. At least they saw a 29-year-old from Pretoria grab sporting immortality.
Grace has never been scared to go low. But ignorance is bliss, and he did not realise the significance of going as low as 62. Since Jonny Miller shot a 63 in the final round of the US Open at Oakmont in 1973 – which in a lot of the opinions of the experts, especially Jonny’s, is the finest 18 holes ever played – nobody has ever shot lower than 63.
There have been 30 others on the number, but greats such as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Vijay Singh and Rory McIlroy have come within an angel hair’s breath of lowering the mark. They all failed. It took Mr Inscrutable to end the curse.
Many will argue that it is not the greatest round in one of the big four, but purely on numbers – i.e. scores added up – they are wrong. It became obvious – to the rest of us anyway – when he went out in a five-under 29 that there were possibilities and when he birdied the 14th they became probabilities.
Yet he failed to birdie the 15th – yanking an eight-footer – and the game of golf thought ‘here we go again’. Grace had other ideas, rolling in an outrageous 35-footer on the 16th, after what, in truth, was a pretty ropey tee-shot, and then birdieing the 17th after two splendid shots on the heart of par-five green.
He nervously parred – or perhaps not – and must have wondered what the din was about. It was the ideal hors d’oeuvre for a golfing feast.
Dustin Johnson, the world No1, was tearing in and after a 64 for a three-under total will still be given a whisper by some. McIlroy seemed possessed when he started with three birdies in the first five holes, effortlessly driving the parfour fifth.
He was to suffer a mini-implosion from the seventh, bogeying two of the next four holes and double-bogeying one after driving into a pot bunker and then almost finding another. Although he steadied the ship by birdieing the 15th – missing a 10-footer for an eagle – he is again sailing into a decent finish at a major but not the destination his talents demand.
After standing at five-over after his first six holes on Thursday, he seemed like one of those racehorses who had made all the ground back up before running out of energy again. He sounded at a loss.
“It’s hard to think big-picture now, I’m just off the golf course and I’m a little disappointed.,” he said. “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 tomorrow and hope for some bad weather. And hope for some guys to struggle.
“Yeah, I definitely feel like today was an opportunity lost to get right in the mix going into tomorrow.”
He is on the same mark as Ross Fisher, who with a 66 joined Ian Poulter as England’s best hope of ending the 25-year Open drought. A forlorn hope. Poulter could not join the birdie charge, playing solidly enough until the 10th, when reaching four-under before a surely fatal hat-trick of bogeys in a row. The perils of Birkdale in one small act.
If Spieth picks up the Claret Jug he would only need the USPGA next month for his career grand slam
The eyes have it: Branden Grace shows his delight after becoming the first man to shoot a 62 in a major. “I had no idea I was about to shoot the lowest round ever,” he said afterwards
History man: Branden Grace on the 18th green (right), and the tournament leader Jordan Spieth (below)