You come at Jordan Spieth, you’d best not miss. Ever. Because he sure won’t.
On the most favorable day for major scoring in recent memory, a day that saw a record 62, Jordan Spieth saw the onrushing horde of would-be challengers for the Open Championship and merely threw down a bogey-free 65, capped with an 18th-hole birdie, that left no doubt about who’s in charge this week.
Spieth entered the day with a two-shot lead over Matt Kuchar, and he only added to that, stiff-arming Kuchar and entering Sunday at 11 under, with a three-stroke lead. And suddenly, a guy who hadn’t won a major since 2015 seemed close to a lock to bringing down his third.
The question now becomes, can anyone catch Spieth? A notorious frontrunner, Spieth is vicious when leading on major Sundays, one notable exception being his unexpected meltdown at last year’s Masters. He’s led going into Sunday in five majors, and he’s won with the Sunday lead in eight of 13 tournaments overall. But there’s no Rae’s Creek at Royal Birkdale, and Danny Willett is nearly 20 strokes back. As with that 2016 Masters, the only person that can truly take down Spieth is Spieth himself.
“That confidence is what you need,” Spieth said of his own mindset heading into Sunday. “Total belief in yourself, trust in what you’re doing. When your mind starts to get away from the spot where you’re trying to hit the ball and into other situations, that can hurt you.”
No player has ever carded four straight rounds in the 60s at Royal Birkdale, and yet that’s what Spieth has the chance to do with a strong Sunday. He didn’t bogey a single hole on Saturday, once again methodically picking apart this course. The way that Birkdale sets up—flat fairways, generous greens—plays directly into the methodical hands of Spieth and caddie Mike Greller, who dissect courses like they’re picking apart a Thanksgiving turkey.
Spieth now enters Sunday with a chance to become the second-youngest player, after Jack Nicklaus, to win the first three legs of the career Grand Slam. Can he do it? The wise money would bet on it.
Here’s the rest of Saturday’s major news as we prepare for Sunday at the Open:
Kuuuuuuuch, Saturday Edition
Matt Kuchar’s one of those reliable gamers who’s been around seemingly forever, but has few signature wins to his credit. This is the deepest he’s ever been in contention in a major, and there are few in the world of golf who wouldn’t like to see him win. Problem is, he’s trying to face down one of the most lethal shotmakers in a generation, and that leaves zero room for error. The turning point in this entire tournament, at least from Kuchar’s perspective, might well have come on the 16th on Saturday, when a pot bunker and a poorly lagged putt forced Kuchar into a double bogey, extending Spieth’s lead to three with two holes to play. Kuchar now faces the task of running down one of golf’s great frontrunners, playing in the final group of a major for the first time in his career. It won’t be easy, but majors shouldn’t be.
Once again, Rory McIlroy teased us with the idea of a Sunday showdown with Spieth, and once again, McIlroy spit the bit and won’t be anywhere near the final group on Sunday. McIlroy ran off three straight birdies and got to within two strokes of Spieth, but then went three-over in the four holes around the turn, including a bunker-induced double bogey at the 10th, and that was that for McIlroy’s hopes for a first major since 2014. Nobody’s ceiling is higher than McIlroy’s, but he seems to have a tougher and tougher time hitting it these days.
Rickie Fowler remains the Best Player Never To Win A Major, 2017 edition. And even though he posted a fine three-under 67 on Saturday, he wasn’t anywhere close to contention at any point. The lone highlight: he nearly holed out on the 310-yard par 4 5th, which would have been quite the achievement.
Forecast for Sunday
Here’s a tip for players teeing off early on Sunday: post that low score in a hurry. Whatever wind and rain are in the forecast are slated to roll in right around the time the leaders tee off. If, say, Dustin Johnson or Hideki Matsuyama throws a deep red number up on the board, Spieth will be battling both the elements and the scoreboard. But he’s already established a large enough lead that someone will need to match Branden Grace’s 62 to get close … something that hasn’t been done in all of golf’s history.