Saturday, July 22, 2017

American 1-2-3 at Royal Birkdale after three rounds

Jordan Spieth, leading by three, is just 18 holes

away from his first Open title

 By Josh Berhow
SOUTHPORT, Lancashire — Where do we begin?
For starters, if you didn't shoot under par today at Royal Birkdale, you might as well head to the nearest airport. A565 to Liverpool or Manchester.

You won't see Jordan Spieth there. He's 18 holes away from winning the third leg of the career grand slam.
On a day when nearly everyone in the field went low — including Branden Grace's historically low 62 — the 23-year-old Spieth (pictured) is still the man to beat at the 146th Open. Spieth shot a "stress-free" (his words) five-under 65 and is 11 under for the first 54 holes. He's three shots clear of playing partner Matt Kuchar, who was two back to begin the day.
This is the fifth time Spieth has held the 54-hole lead at a major but the first time he'll be in the final Sunday pairing at a major since the 2016 Masters, when he lost the lead, and tournament, with a triple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole at Augusta National.
Friday's rain and wind kept the field bunched. But conditions were ideal on moving day. No raincoats, oversized umbrellas or ponchos — or at least not until the final hour of play, when a quick shower hit the area. Before that, there was a soothing breeze, sleeveless shirts and thirsty British golf fans.
The grounds were buzzing. Spectator village looked like the floor of an Adele concert. Twenty-four hours earlier, in that same area, golf fans took cover to escape the rain. On Saturday they laid blankets on the ground and sunbathed.
Shaun Norris, a 35-year-old South African, was the first man out this morning. He shot 65, a harbinger of more low scores to come. Jim "Bones" Mackay, Phil Mickelson's long-time caddie-turned-on-course reporter this week, sensed it, too. He said on the telecast that 62 was very much in play. Hours later Grace signed for 62—the lowest round in men's major championship history.
The boards bled red. Dustin Johnson: 64. Henrik Stenson: 65. Rickie Fowler: 67. And on and on. Forty-three of 62 players posted under-par scores on Saturday.
Spieth, teeing off after Grace set the pace, made the turn in three-under 31, the same as his partner, Kuchar, who despite playing well was unable to gain any ground. He inched closer with a birdie on the par-3 14th to get to eight under, one back. They both birdied 15, but Kuchar suffered a disastrous double bogey on the par-4 16th and fell three behind. His drive found a pot bunker, he blasted out back into the fairway and three-putted. He got one stroke back with a birdie on 17, but Spieth punctuated his round with a long birdie on 18. Kuchar missed his short birdie try.
Grace's 62 broke the long-standing low-scoring mark of 63 in the majors. Johnny Miller shot the first, a final-round eight-under 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont. It's been matched 30 times since then, most recently by Justin Thomas, who shot 63 at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills last month, which set the major record for relation to par at nine under.
Grace, a 29-year-old South African still in search of his first major title, didn't know how good his round was, even after the final putt had dropped. His caddie, Zack Rasego, had to tell him.
"Zack came up and said, 'You're in the history books,'" Grace said. "And I was like, 'What are you talking about?' So obviously now it makes the day even sweeter."
Grace made the turn in 29. He added birdies on 14, 16 and 17 then parred 18. He started the day four over and 10 shots off the lead. He's now tied for fifth.
"Today was one of those days where we had the conditions," Grace said. "Just trying to shoot a number to try to get myself back in there and have a decent finish for the week. Obviously now the mindset changed a bit.
Austin Connelly and Brooks Koepka are tied for third at five under. Rory McIlroy is nine back and tied for 11th. He started the day well by making birdies on three of the first six holes, but he fell back with a double on 10. He shot 69.

• If Spieth does win, he would become just the second player (joining Jack Nicklaus) to win three legs of the Grand Slam before age 24.
• He would become the youngest champion of The Open since Seve Ballesteros in 1979.
• He would become the first player with 10 US PGA Tour wins including three majors before the age of 24 (Spieth will turn 24 on July 27).
• If Spieth completes the Grand Slam at this year's US PGA Champonship, he would become the youngest Grand Slam winner.



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