Spi­eth has leg up on win­ning 3rd leg

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

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 at age 23. In the past was his last time lead­ing a ma­jor, when he let a five-shot 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 an ex­tra­or­di­nary day of scor­ing in the Bri­tish Open, cap­ping off his 5un­der 65 by seiz­ing on a good break and mak­ing a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a three­shot 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. He was warm­ing up on the range when Bran­den Grace shot 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 54-hole 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 quadru­ple­bo­gey on the 12th hole that cost him an­other green jacket.

Spi­eth was em­brac­ing 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.”

He de­scribed the Mas­ters last year as a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence that he thought would serve him well down the road.

“If I don’t win to­mor­row, it has noth­ing to do with that,” he said. “And if I win to­mor­row, it has noth­ing to do with that, ei­ther.”

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 a dou­ble bogey.

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

“It’s not that I ever felt like I was play­ing Jor­dan to­day,” Kuchar said.

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