- Jordan Spieth enters the Sunday's British Open tied for the lead and the betting favorite to win (+170).
- Spieth has converted nine of his 11 career 54-hole leads into victories, one of which came at last year's British Open.
- With tough conditions forecasted for Sunday, playing with creativity will be a must, which fits Spieth's game perfectly.
Jordan Spieth had to hand back the Claret Jug this week.
Check that: He didn’t just have to hand it back. He was forced to participate in a ceremonial sacrifice, speaking about what the loss meant to him just moments after they’d pried it from his hands and inspected it like a car rental manager at the airport.
“It was terrible,” Spieth would later admit. “I didn’t enjoy it at all. I just wanted to give it back in the parking lot.”
The entire scenario might have left a bad taste in Spieth’s mouth, but there was a positive aspect to it — both for Spieth and those who are backing him to become the first back-to-back Open champion since Padraig Harrington in 2007 and ’08.
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Questioned about his recent struggles — in his latest stretch before this event, Spieth played six of seven weeks and finished outside the top 20 in all of ‘em — he spoke about how he’d been getting too technical with his swing. Then he smiled, as if he was about to let us all in on a little secret.
Spieth proceeded to explain that this was a perfect time for him to be playing this specific event and this specific type of course, because it would bring out his inner creativity, part of his game that had been lacking.
“Probably more artist,” he would later say when asked about that role compared with being a tactician. “Is [my swing] as consistent as it’s ever been? Probably not. But can it be by the time we tee off? Absolutely. Does it have to be to win the tournament? No, because it requires so much feel over here. As long as I play to the right spots and give myself enough chances, it can be good enough.”
Through three rounds, it has, indeed, been good enough.
Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jordan Spieth
Spieth followed scores of 72 and 67 with a bogey-free third-round 65 to move into a three-way share of the lead with Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele entering the final day. Spieth enters the final round a +170 favorite.
It was eerily similar to last year’s third round, when he posted a 65 at Royal Birkdale to claim a three-stroke lead that turned into a drama-packed victory the next day.
And yet, this Sunday should be the ultimate something’s-gotta-give scenario.
In his young career, Spieth owns an overwhelming record as a closer, converting nine of his 11 leads through 54 holes. The exceptions are, of course, that fate-filled 2016 Masters, when he lost after holding a five-shot lead going into the back nine, plus last year’s Northern Trust, which he lost in a playoff to Dustin Johnson.
Carnoustie, however, has never been kind to third-round leaders.
In the seven previous editions of The Open that were held here, only once did a 54-hole leader win — and that was back in 1953, when Ben Hogan famously parlayed a share of the lead into his lone title in his only start at this event.
Really, it’s a venue that brings out the best in the players who are ostensibly on the outside looking in. Eleven years ago, Harrington trailed Sergio Garcia by a half-dozen strokes entering the final round, but stormed back to win. Eight years before that, Paul Lawrie overcame a record 10-stroke deficit to succeed on home soil.
Sunday is expected to feature perhaps the most difficult conditions we’ve seen all week, with gustier winds blowing through a rock-hard course that has already seen golf balls bouncing and bounding everywhere.
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If the forecast rings true, it will be a day in which the contenders will be forced to rely more on creativity than technical ability. It will be a day for visualizing golf shots rather than attempting to pull off perfect golf swings.
It will be a day that, should we believe everything Spieth has imparted to us this week, will be right up his alley.
To become Champion Golfer of the Year for the second straight time, Spieth will need to overcome his fellow contenders, the tougher conditions and Carnoustie’s unfriendly history toward 54-hole leaders.
Being an artist over a tactician just might result in another trophy ceremony, a much happier one than he endured earlier this week.