CARNOUSTIE – Jordan Spieth is hoping to join the elite group of golfers to have retained the Open Championship title as he goes into the final round at Carnoustie on Sunday in a share of the lead.
The American star sits level on nine-under-par alongside compatriots Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner as he aims for a repeat of his victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago, although there is a large chasing pack ready to pounce, with Tiger Woods right in the mix.
Spieth shot a superb six-under-par 65 in benign conditions on Saturday to catapult himself up the leaderboard as he aims to follow in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington, the last player to retain the Claret Jug a decade ago.
There would be a sense of symmetry to the achievement if Spieth does win on Scotland’s North Sea coast – Harrington’s double came at Carnoustie in 2007 and then Birkdale in 2008.
“I’ve made a lot of progress over the year that’s been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who came third at the Masters in Aprilm but then missed the cut at the US Open.
“I feel like my game’s in good shape. It’s progressed nicely. We’ve got pretty much a new tournament tomorrow (Sunday).”
Spieth has his work cut out though, with the leaderboard so closely packed that at least 20 players will start on Sunday believing they can win the Claret Jug.
Schauffele and Kisner are both bidding to win a first major, with the latter hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s US PGA Championship, when he led going into the final day but finished in a tie for seventh.
With trickier, windy conditions expected for the last round, Kisner feels it could be an unpredictable day, and a harder one.
“Judging by the conditions and what’s going to be going on, I would imagine it’s going to be more of a grind all day,” said Kisner, who has been sharing a house with Spieth and several other American stars in Scotland this week.
Kisner will go out with another American, Kevin Chappell, who is seven-under, in the penultimate pairing of the day at 2.35pm local time, before Spieth and Schauffele tee off 10 minutes later.
Before heading to the course on Saturday, Spieth went into Carnoustie for what he called “a very British haircut”, just as Tiger Woods was rolling back the years with his third-round 66 in front of huge galleries.
Woods, who won back-to-back Opens himself in 2005 and 2006, is in a group of players at five-under along with the likes of Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood.
The 42-year-old, who has not won a major since 2008 as personal problems and health issues have stalled his career, will tee off at 2.25pm with Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who is six-under-par.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this,” Woods said in comments that might seem somewhat ominous for his rivals.
“I played pretty similar to this at the Players Championship. Obviously, the ‘fifth major’, possibly, but not like this in one of these big four events.”
Americans have won the last five majors, but McIlroy has played well enough this week to believe he can claim a first major since 2014, when he did the double of British Open and US PGA Championship.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood is the most likely to become the first English winner of the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“The wind is supposed to pick up, so that might be a helping hand,” said Fleetwood, who holds the course record at Carnoustie with a 63 at the Dunhill Championship last year.
He also shot 63 on the final day of the US Open last month to finish second behind Brooks Koepka.