History beckons at Birkdale for superb Spieth
Victory for Jordan Spieth in the 146th Open Championship will see the American star carve himself a little niche in golfing history.
The 23-year-old from Dallas carded a brilliant five-under-par 65 to take a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar into the final round at Royal Birkdale.
He is hot favourite to win his first Claret Jug and in doing so become the youngest Open champion since Seve Ballesteros (22) in 1979.
A wire-to-wire victory at Southport will also see him join the great Jack Nicklaus as the only golfer under the age of 24 to win at least three legs of the Grand Slam.
“I’m extremely pleased, couldn’t ask for much more,” said the two-time Major winner.
“I feel very confident in the way I’ve been striking my irons. If that continues and I feel that way as we get in our warm-up and then early in the round then I can play more conservatively off the tee and take a lot of those bunkers out of play and that’s obviously very important.”
Kuchar was left to rue some mistakes on the back nine, his four-under round of 66 leaving him needing a fast start in the final round to put pressure on Spieth.
Defending champion Henrik Stenson kept his hopes of defending his title just about alive with a 65 that saw him turn in 32 with three birdies and a bogey before adding further gains on the 12th, 14th and 15th to get to three under.
Also on that mark is Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open champion Rafa Cabrera-Bello who bogeyed the second but hit back with birdies on the sixth, 13th, 17th and 18th, while world No. 1 Dustin Johnson fired a 64 with birdies on the first, fourth, fifth, seventh, tenth and 15th.
American Chan Kim was also at three under, a shot clear of Rory McIlroy, Ross Fisher, Ian Poulter and Scotland’s Richie Ramsay, who couldn’t do better than a par 70.
Another big talking point of the day was a record-breaking round of 62 by South African Branden Grace, posted before the leaders had teed off in the third round.
There had previously been 31 rounds of 63 in golf’s four biggest events – with ten of them coming at the Open – but nobody had managed to get to the magical 62 mark in a men’s Major.
Grace set about changing that as he made birdies on the first, fourth, fifth, eighth and ninth to turn in 29 before recording four pars.
A good tee-shot set up a birdie on the par 3 14th but when he failed to take advantage of the gettable par 5 next, his chances of a place in the history books took a major blow.
The South African bounced back brilliantly, holing a 35-foot putt on the 16th, and when he hit the 17th green in two and rolled his third to the side of the cup he just needed a par up the last.
When his second into the 18th rolled off the back of the green the seven-time European Tour winner had some work to do, but he pulled out the putter again and left himself a two-footer which he duly made to take his place in golfing history.
“I honestly didn’t know,” he said. “I was just so in the zone of playing, hole after hole.
“I knew I was obviously playing really well and making the turn in five under was pretty special and I thought if I could make a couple more on the back nine, then it’s going to be a great score.
“I had no idea that 62 was obviously the lowest ever. It’s something I really enjoyed and something I’ll remember forever.”
Grace’s history-making round saw him race through the field to start his final round in fifth spot on four-under-par.
-11 Jordan Spieth.
-8 Matt Kuchar.
-5 Brooks Koepka, Austin Connelly.
-4 Branden Grace, Hideki Matsuyama.
-3 Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson.
-2 Ian Poulter, Richie Ramsay, Rory McIlroy.
-1 Rickie Fowler.