SPIETH IN CONTROL
Leads Kuchar by two strokes
Jordan Spieth expected a rough time at the 146th British Open before he even got to the golf course.
He spent Friday morning at his rented house in front of the television, watching players battle a relentless wind at Royal Birkdale, all the while checking a forecast that was even worse for when he played in the afternoon.
“It wasn’t a great feeling knowing we were coming into something harder than what we were watching,” he said.
Spieth did more than just survive.
With a short game as sharp as it has been all year, and a 3-wood that turned out a lot better than it looked and led to an eagle, Spieth seized control of the tournament with a 1-underpar 69 that gave him a twoshot lead over Matt Kuchar going into the weekend.
Spieth turned a bogey or worse into an unlikely par by chipping in from just short of the 10th green. And he learned enough from watching TV to know that going a little long on the par-5 15th would give him a better birdie chance than playing short. So he switched from a 3-iron to a 3-wood, hit it a little off the neck and watched it run hot and fast some 100 yards along the wet turf to about 18 feet away.
“I mis-hit the shot, which is probably why it looked so gross,” said Spieth, a Texan who turns 24 next week. “I hit it low off the heel, which is easy to do when you’re trying to carve a cut. And it just ... one hop, scooted around the group of bunkers there, and then it was obviously fortunate to get all the way to the green.”
The flight of that 3-wood looked as ugly as the weather. The outcome was as bright as his chances of getting his name on another major championship trophy.
Spieth was at 6-under 134. It was the 12th time he has been atop the leaderboard at a major, including the fourth rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open that he won in 2015.
Spieth is the sole leader at a major for the first time since the third round of the Masters last year, when he was runner-up to Danny Willett.
“Anytime you’re in the last group on a weekend in a major ... you get nervous. And I’ll be feeling it this weekend a bit,” Spieth said. “But I enjoy it. As long as I approach it positively and recognize that this is what you want to feel because you’re in the position you want to be in, then the easier it is to hit solid shots and to create solid rounds.”
Kuchar played in the morning in steadily strong wind, but without rain, and pieced together a solid round until a few mistakes at the end for a 1-over 71. He was at 4-under 136, and it would have been a good bet that he would be leading with the nasty weather that arrived.
“I think that’s what people enjoy about the British Open — watching the hard wind, the rain, the guys just trying to survive out there,” Kuchar said. “Today is my day. I get to kick back in the afternoon and watch the guys just try to survive.”
He wound up watching another short-game clinic from Spieth.
The key to his round came in the middle, starting with a 10-foot par putt on No. 8 after he drove into a pot bunker. The biggest break came at No. 10, when the rain was pounding Royal Birkdale. Spieth hit into another pot bunker off the tee, could only advance it out sideways, and came up short of the green in light rough.
“Massive,” he said of the chip-in par. “Nothing said ‘4’ about this hole. I feel a little guilty about taking 4 on the card.”