Bri­tish Open

Spi­eth opens up; Kuchar three back head­ing into fi­nal round.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

SOUTH­PORT, Eng­land — Jor­dan Spi­eth is one round away from the third leg of the ca­reer Grand Slam, and one year re­moved from a re­minder that it won’t be easy.

On the hori­zon is a chance to join Jack Nick­laus as the only play­ers to win three dif­fer­ent ma­jors by age 23. In the past was his last time lead­ing a ma­jor, when he let a fiveshot lead get away from him on the back nine a year ago at Au­gusta Na­tional.

All that mat­tered to him was the present.

Spi­eth did his part on a day of ex­traor­di­nary scor­ing in the Bri­tish Open, cap­ping off his 5-un­der 65 by seiz­ing a good break and mak­ing a 20foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, who did his best to keep pace with a 66.

Spi­eth had one of seven rounds at 65 or lower at Royal Birk­dale, which was never more vul­ner­a­ble with a light breeze and a clear sky un­til the fi­nal hour.

Spi­eth was warm­ing up on the range when South African Bran­den Grace posted a 62, the low­est 18-hole score over 157 years of ma­jor cham­pi­onships. Spi­eth then de­liv­ered his sec­ond bo­gey-free round of the week in which he never came se­ri­ously close to a bo­gey.

“Pretty stress-free,” Spi­eth said. “On a Satur­day with a lead in a ma­jor, that’s as good as I can ask for.”

He was at 11-un­der 199, break­ing by six shots the 54hole record at Royal Birk­dale that Tom Wat­son set in 1983. Not only did that last birdie give him a three-shot lead, no one else was closer than six shots.

This will be Spi­eth’s third time tak­ing the lead into the fi­nal round of a ma­jor. He led by four at the Masters two years ago and won by that mar­gin. More re­cent was a one-shot lead at Au­gusta to start the fi­nal round, a five-shot lead at the turn and a quadru­ple-bo­gey on the 12th hole that cost him an­other green jacket.

Spi­eth said he would em­brace both mem­o­ries.

“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.”

Kuchar never quite caught up to Spi­eth. He twice made birdies that mo­men­tar­ily tied him for the lead, only for Spi­eth to pour in birdie putts on top of him to stay in front. Kuchar’s one slip was a drive into the pot bunker on No. 16 when the rain fi­nally ar­rived, and a three-putt that led to dou­ble bo­gey.

He will be play­ing in the fi­nal group of the fourth round at a ma­jor for the first time, and Kuchar, 39, sounded up for the oc­ca­sion.

“It’s not that I ever felt like I was play­ing Jor­dan to­day,” Kuchar said. “We cer­tainly had a great round of golf. I never felt like I was out there try­ing to beat Jor­dan. It’s try­ing to go up against Royal Birk­dale and put on the best show you can against the golf course.”

No one did it quite like Grace, the 29-year-old South African who had a chance to win the U.S. Open two years ago. He went out in 29, then added long birdie putts on the 14th and 16th holes, and a twop­utt birdie on the 17th to reach 8 un­der. From 60 feet be­hind the 18th green, he lagged it to 2 feet and tapped in for a 62.

Austin Con­nelly, 20, who grew up in Dal­las and shares a swing coach with Spi­eth, posted birdies on his last two holes for a 66. Con­nelly, who plays un­der the Cana­dian flag, was six shots be­hind at 5-un­der 205, tied with U.S. Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka, who had a 68.

Grace is seven shots be­hind even af­ter his 62.

Miss­ing from the mix was Rory McIl­roy, who looked to be a big threat when he be­gan with three birdies in five holes, driv­ing the green on the short­ened par-4 fifth hole. He lost it around the turn, mak­ing back-to-back bo­geys, and then a dou­ble bo­gey at No. 10 when he blasted out of one pot bunker left of the fair­way and it spun to­ward an­other, rest­ing in the thick col­lar.

McIl­roy had a 69, rarely a bad score in the third round of a ma­jor. This one left him nine shots be­hind.

“If you keep it in play, it’s al­most hard to make a bo­gey out there, you know?” McIl­roy said. “I’ve al­ways been good when I get off to fast starts, be­ing

able to keep it go­ing, and I didn’t to­day. And I needed to — that’s the dis­ap­point­ing thing.”

The tone for to­day’s fi­nal round was set over the fi­nal three holes, when Kuchar made his dou­ble bo­gey. Kuchar got one back with a birdie from the pot bunker short of the green at the par5 17th. And then Spi­eth stole a birdie at the end when his ap­proach nar­rowly missed the bunker right of the green and had enough spin to stay on the putting sur­face for his fi­nal birdie. Kuchar missed his birdie at­tempt from 12 feet.

“I played well to­day,” Kuchar said. “Cer­tainly, I’m not out of it. I’m play­ing some good golf. I’m very ex­cited for to­mor­row.”

AP/PETER MOR­RI­SON

Amer­i­can Jor­dan Spi­eth shot a 5-un­der-par 65 at Royal Birk­dale on Satur­day and held a three-shot lead head­ing into to­day’s fi­nal round of the Bri­tish Open.

AP/ALAS­TAIR GRANT

Brooks Koepka, who won the U.S. Open, is tied for third with a 5-un­der-par 205 and is six shots back of leader Jor­dan Spi­eth go­ing into to­day’s fi­nal round.

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