Following what was arguably his worst putting performance of the year, where the Masters and U.S. Open champion needed 37 putts en route to an even par 72 in the second round at St Andrews, Jordan Spieth required a low one to get back into the mix on Sunday at The Open.
The Golden Boy delivered, posting a six-under 66 in the third round to put him at 11-under for the championship and just one back of the 54-hole leaders, amateur Paul Dunne, Louis Oosthuizen, who took home the Claret Jug the last time the Open was at the Old Course in 2010, and Jason Day.
The watch for the Grand Slam is still very much alive.
Spieth was frustrated with his putting in the second round and put in extra time working on his stroke prior to Saturday’s play and even before his regular warm-up routine on Sunday. While he made the turn at two-under, he three-putted the par-4 9th, leaving him extremely exasperated — so much that he punched his golf bag because he didn’t want to hit his caddie Michael Greller. However, the good news was he figured out the problem with his stroke after draining a putt for birdie on no. 7, which vaulted him to the outstanding four-under 32 on the second nine.
“Every putt was missing just a little off the left side of the hole, so I just tried to adjust, and by the time we got to 10, 11 there, I had made the adjustment, so that back nine was — when you turn and come into the wind, it’s not exactly easy,” said Spieth, who rolled in three consecutive birdies after making the turn. “So, to shoot 4-under with no bogeys on the back was a great comeback from really Friday, Saturday and the front nine today.”
The 21-year-old Texan gained momentum after he found his stroke — not just with the birdie putts, but he also made two big par saves on nos. 13, 14 and 17, which were significant for his confidence heading into Monday’s final round.
“Those are the ones that I missed yesterday that then carried into my birdie putts and I wasn’t able to make them,” he said. “Those were big, big putts for me, especially 13 at the time that it was, and 14 was a great par save on the second putt.
“I missed those yesterday, and so to come back and really get over those from yesterday and say, you know what, you made these the first round, you’ve made them the last whatever, year, just step up and knock it in the middle of the hole, it was huge. It was huge for my confidence then to carry in that momentum the rest of the round, and it’s big for me going into tomorrow.”
At last month’s U.S. Open, Spieth repeatedly reminded himself that he had already won a major, while the other 54-hole co-leaders, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Branden Grace, were still gunning for their first. That mindset allowed him to do what Greller refers to as “free-rolling.” Having captured the first two major titles of the year allows Spieth to employ this mentality even more.
“There’s really no downside,” he said. “If we have a chance to win and we don’t execute tomorrow, then we’re going to be okay. And with that attitude, it actually frees me up a little bit to say I can take these extra chances. Maybe just a little more comfort tonight in my sleep. It’s always hard to sleep near or with the lead in the last round of a major championship, but it’s been a long week here so far.”
However, given the weather delays and the Monday finish, Spieth feels like it’s provided him with somewhat of an advantage by allowing him more time to get adjusted to links golf, the time change, etc. He knows that he’ll need to play “aggressive golf” for a chance to win tomorrow, which is what he’s trying to do — he’s not attempting to cruise to a top-five finish; rather anything less than a victory would be unsatisfactory.
Don’t tell Spieth he’s trying to chase down history at the Open by winning the first three majors of the season — it hasn’t crossed his mind yet, but if it does, he’ll relish in the opportunity.
“I see it as something that’s only been done once before, and it was a long time ago,” he said. “I think that to be in that category of having done something that you love to do and that you’re doing for your life, only one person has ever done it before, that opportunity very rarely comes around, and I’d like to have a chance to do something nobody has ever done, and so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more tomorrow, to be able to try and go into the last major and accomplish something that’s never been done in our sport is something that only comes around to a couple people ever, and I’d like to be one of those people to have that happen.
“That’s just going to go into my fight tomorrow. I’m also going to have to manage that, and that’ll go into my fight ahead of time. Once I get inside the ropes, we’re just going to have our game plan and be ready to go. But I do recognize what’s at stake, and for me to accomplish that feat is going to be to simplify things and to just go about our business.”
Similar to his strategy en route to his first two major wins, he doesn’t plan on watching the leaderboard at all — though his caddie might be keeping tabs on the back nine if it’s close; just so he knows what they need to do coming home.
“The strategy at hand is setting the expectations the right way, looking at the pins ahead of time, looking at where we want to place the tee shots to have the best angles because it’s about angles out here, and especially if conditions kick up you don’t want to be in any tough spots where big numbers come into play, so limit the mistakes, watch my speed control,” he said. “It needs to get better putting. I saved myself on a couple putts today. All in all, that’s what goes into the game plan.”
The last player to win the first three majors of the year was Ben Hogan in 1953.