CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before his third round Saturday at the British Open, Jordan Spieth asked his caddie Michael Greller about what club he should hit off the tee on Carnoustie’s par-4 opening hole, which was playing 380 yards.
“Do we like driver again?” Spieth asked.
Greller responded, according to Spieth: “No, you lay it up, and it’s still a wedge to the front pin. Guys were getting it in there close all morning.”
But as Spieth walked to the first tee, he had second thoughts. So he ran them past his instructor, Cameron McCormick.
“How about I just send it on No. 1?” Spieth said to McCormick, who reaffirmed Spieth’s decision-making.
“I put all my chips behind anything that you decide, always,” McCormick told his standout student.
By the time Spieth stood over his first tee shot, driver in hand, he was all-in on the shot. Two strokes later and Spieth’s ball was dropping in the hole for an opening eagle.
“It was a dream start for the day,” said Spieth, whose 12-foot eagle make helped send the reigning Champion Golfer of the Year to the top of the leaderboard on a scoreable Saturday at Carnoustie.
Spieth, at 9 under following a third-round 6-under 65, shares the lead with housemate Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, who will join Spieth in Sunday’s final pairing of 24-year-olds.
While Kisner, Schauffele and five other golfers at T-6 or better still searching for their first major victories, Spieth has three, including the Claret Jug. Having won a year ago at Royal Birkdale will help Spieth sleep easier Saturday night. He has nothing to prove, even if this season has been a struggle by Spieth’s lofty standards.
He is 175th in strokes gained putting and hasn’t cracked the top 20 in six starts since finishing third at the Masters. Yet Spieth found something on the greens this week, executing a tweak in his putting setup that has helped him use his arms more in his stroke.
Saturday’s 29 putts were the most Spieth has needed in a single round this championship. None of his birdie putts in Round 3 came from outside 12 feet, though his lag putting and speed has been remarkable. From 40 feet away at the par-5 14th, Spieth calmly left himself a tap-in birdie to move into a share of the lead for the first time.
“He putted it great,” said Spieth’s playing competitor, Kevin Chappell, who last played with Spieth at the Genesis Open in February, when, as Chappell noted, “our games were a little different.”
And while Spieth said Friday that his ballstriking wasn’t near where it was last year at Royal Birkdale, a day later he felt exponentially more confident in his ability from tee to green. His 10 fairways and 15 greens hit Saturday were both week highs.
“I’ve kind of got a cleared mind,” Spieth said. “I’ve made a lot of progress over the year that’s been kind of an off year, a building year. … This is right after the round, but I feel pretty calm because of the progress made in the game. If I felt like I got away with a lot of stuff and I really wasn’t progressing and just made a lot of putts, then I’d probably feel more tension.”
The only thing “high and tight” Saturday evening was Spieth’s haircut. He ventured into town Saturday morning and dropped 20 pounds for a quick haircut, which was noticeable even hidden underneath Spieth’s black Under Armour cap.
“It looked like a military grade haircut,” quipped Kisner.
Jokes aside, 25-mph winds Sunday will make Carnoustie no laughing matter. Players have almost universally agreed that the final round will be the toughest test yet and that the “Carnicety” that showed up on Moving Day should once again turn into “Carnasty” in time for the finish.
“I’m really excited to see how hard it can play,” Kisner said. “I think that’s the way the major championship should come down the stretch is be as hard as possible.”
And with a bunched leaderboard, anything can – and probably will – happen.
“Expect the unexpected,” Spieth said.
With so much uncertainty and the 147th Open playing just that – wide open – many who fancy betting will be hesitant as they rush to Ladbrokes prior to Sunday’s final round. Looking for the safest bet?
It’s undoubtedly Spieth. He’s the defending champion. He’s playing brilliantly, especially on the greens. And most importantly, he knows it.