CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth will turn 25 on July 27, but on Saturday he attacked Carnoustie in the third round of the British Open with the edge of experience. He stomped on the gas pedal immediately, driving the 396-yard, par-4 first hole and then draining a 12-foot eagle putt to pull within one stroke of the leaders, who had yet to tee off.
It was the sort of statement that Spieth had been seeking for most of the season as the three-time major champion seeks to end a winless streak that dates to last year’s British Open. Spieth looked nothing like the player who has missed the cut in two of his past three starts, including at the U.S. Open. After the opening eagle, he made four birdies in a bogey-free 6-under 65 that catapulted him up the leaderboard. He is tied for the lead with fellow Americans Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele at 9-under 204 (scores).
The tone was set for Spieth minutes before he teed off.
“So, No. 1, we were on the range kind of talking it over, and I said, ‘Do we like driver again?’ And [caddie] Michael [Greller] said, ‘No, you lay it up, and it's still a wedge to the front pin. Guys were getting it in there close all morning,’ ” Spieth said of the strategy session.
“Walking to the tee – I was walking with Cameron [McCormick, Spieth’s coach] – and I thought, How about I just send it on No. 1? I felt good about the range session. And he's like, ‘I put my chips behind anything that you decide, always’ – something like that,” Spieth said. “And that kind of gave me that little extra boost that might have gotten it onto the front of the green. So, it wasn't until walking off the practice green. And then when we got to the tee and the wind wasn't really blowing, I thought it was for sure driver.”
Spieth’s charge made a statement like Tiger Woods used to make in his heyday. Spieth is the man to beat today. Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook listed him as the 7-4 favorite.
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Jordan Spieth, who surged into a share of the lead Saturday at the British Open, could be the man to beat today.
Everything about Spieth says as much, from his game on Saturday to how he talked about the potential of winning today. He would be the first British Open champion to successfully defend his title since Padraig Harrington in 2008.
“I felt like I had something I had to prove to other people with last year's Open and to myself – really to myself more than anything,” Spieth said of his victory at Royal Birkdale. “I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anyone at this point. I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year.”
A so-called building year can have a tendency to become a memorable year when it includes a major championship, which is what Spieth has set himself up to do.
Among the top 12 players, only Woods (66), Rory McIlroy (70) and Zach Johnson (72), who were in a seven-man tie for sixth place at 5 under, have won major titles. At four strokes behind, Woods, McIlroy and Johnson likely would need an extraordinary round today to catch Spieth, who says he has found some answers on the east coast of Scotland.
“I think that going through some of the kind of stuff that I was going through in my game allowed me to kind of figure out when I'm off, what are the keys to get over it?” Spieth said of his new mindset. “What are the triggers to win? The kind of nerves come on; the tension comes up; why? And therefore in the future, I'll be kind of able to kick it back into gear a little quicker and under the gun be able to compensate a little bit better.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli