SOUTHPORT, England — On an enchanting day by the Irish Sea, where the sun sparkled for hours and the wind was gentle throughout, history emerged from the ancient ground of Royal Birkdale in the 146th British Open.
From the first tee shot to the last putt out of the third round of this championship, the display of golf was stunning, none more brilliant than the round authored by Branden Grace. With little wind, scarce rain and soft greens proving oh so pleasant, the South African clobbered Birkdale and signed for the first 62 in 442 major championships contested by men.
Grace made eight birdies and no bogeys on the massive par-70 layout where sand dunes frame each hole. Thirty-one players had previously shot 63, the latest Justin Thomas in the third round of the U.S. Open in June.
But Grace was far from the only one who produced roars that whistled through the dunes. For the third consecutive day, young Texan Jordan Spieth teed up impressive golf, taking one more solid step to the third leg of the career grand slam. The winner of the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open turned in a superb 65, his second such number for the week, to move to 11 under through 54 holes. With a birdie on the last, Spieth, the only player in the field to finish all three rounds in the 60s, extended his lead to three shots with 18 to play.
“Today was a day you had to be aggressive,” said Spieth, who confidently rolled into this charming seaside village off a win in the Travelers Championship three weeks ago. “Today was just go out there and take advantage when you get a good number and when you don't, take your medicine. It's so much easier to putt with that wind, let alone hit shots tee to green. I stayed out of trouble off the tee today. Off the tee after the first two holes I thought it was my best performance that I've had in the last few events. And I was really excited about that, finishing the day.”
His night won’t be too bad, either. He has become accustomed to sleeping on the lead at a major championship and has become more comfortable in doing so.
“It's a different feeling and one that's harder to sleep with than the other way around because you feel like you've got to almost change the way you do things. And you almost kind of see the finish line,” Spieth said. “And you control your own destiny, and sometimes that can be a big thing on your mind versus I need help and I'll just go out there and try to play well. If I get help, great, if I don't, I don't.
“It's a little bit tougher to sleep, but I've been fine recently. I expect to be. If not, I can sleep during the day tomorrow; we don't tee off until pretty late. But I wouldn't rather be in any other position than where we're at. And we have an opportunity to have a really special day on the golf course tomorrow. I'm excited about it.”
Spieth will be joined in the final group on Sunday by fellow American Matt Kuchar, who is seeking his first major title. Kuchar shot 66 to get to 8 under, missing a chance to cut into the lead when his 7-footer for birdie on the last slid by. Another American, Brooks Koepka, shot 68 and was joined at 5 under by 20-year-old Canadian Austin Connelly, who shot 66. Connelly, as is Spieth, is coached by Cameron McCormick.
World No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama (66) and Grace are joint fifth, seven shots behind. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (64) and defending champion Henrik Stenson (65) are in a group eight shots back. Rory McIlroy made a strong early run before settling for a 69 and is nine back.
Of the 77 players who made the cut, 41 broke par in the third round, including the top 12 on the leaderboard. An astounding 15 players shot 66 or better. On a day that will long be remembered for the scoring barrage, the field average was a remarkable 69.02.
Kuchar knows he likely has to go low to win the Claret Jug, but he won’t be fixated on catching Spieth.
“I just have to continue to play good golf,” Kuchar said. “I'll be playing with him but not focused on him. My goal is to go out and play Royal Birkdale. I'll know exactly where we stand, but I don't know how much that ever helps you. You just have to go out and hit the best shot for the situation. I've been on some good form. The formula has produced a lot of good golf, and I hope it continues to produce some good golf tomorrow.”
Grace gave himself a chance with his historic round.
“What a special day,” said Grace, who counts 11 pro titles on his résumé, including the 2016 RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour. “It's always nice shooting a low number, whether it's any day of the week, whether it's in a tournament or with friends. And then finishing the round and then finding out what you've done makes it even better, it really does. And to do it at the Open Championship is pretty special. It's something I really enjoyed and something I'll remember forever, definitely.”
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