No wonder Jordan Spieth beat a hasty retreat from the 18th green. He had just been involved in the kind of horror moment as defines championships and triggers nightmares for the individual involved. If the Texan, who excelled for so much of day three at Royal St George’s, falls one shy of Open glory he will rue a careless episode.
Spieth was two feet from the hole for par. A player of his short-game expertise could typically hole such putts without the use of one arm. Spieth’s attempt barely touched the hole, such was its astonishingly wayward nature. Suddenly, momentum had shifted the way of Collin Morikawa and Louis Oosthuizen. As spectators flocked towards the bars of rural Kent, Spieth was still hitting practice putts. And replaying, surely replaying, his aberration.
With 18 holes to play under more blistering sun, Oosthuizen’s 12 under par leads Morikawa by one. Spieth, who had also dropped a shot at the 17th, is nine under following a 69 which for so long promised much, much more. He can win from here but the strength of those ahead of him render the challenge a huge one.
Perhaps an Oosthuizen versus Morikawa duel is fine in the garden of England. It feels impolite to depict Sandwich as the backdrop to any kind of epic scrap but if St George’s can host anything on the scale of the final day in Troon five years ago – when Henrik Stenson eventually shook off Phil Mickelson – then this venue’s reputation as the poor relation of the Open rota could be usefully enhanced. “I am going to play my heart out tomorrow and see if I can lift the Claret Jug again,” said Oosthuizen, the champion of 2010.
Oosthuizen looked at odds with himself for much of day three but still returned a 69. It was easy once again to forget this is Morikawa’s Open debut as he pieced together a 68. “As an athlete, as a golfer, you want to be in this position,” he said. “I love it.”
An outrageous piece of fortune, as he bounced from brutal rough at the 8th back into short grass, had suggested someone, somewhere may be smiling down on the resurgent Spieth. Indeed, Spieth made considerable headway when four under after 10 holes. A dropped shot at the 11th was offset by Oosthuizen stumbling on precisely the same hole. With Spieth through 14 holes and Oosthuizen one group behind, the pair were tied at 11 under par. How matters subsequently changed as Morikawa played his closing six in minus two and Spieth lapsed into monthly medal territory.
A 50ft putt as converted by Morikawa at the 8th raised eyebrows, given the 2020 US PGA champion’s notorious shortcomings on the greens. Morikawa holed out from a similar length at the 13th, as kept him within one of the shared lead. An Oosthuizen birdie at the 16th and Spieth’s wobble altered the tournament narrative.
Jon Rahm, just weeks after claiming the US Open, lurks with intent. The Spaniard’s 68 means a seven under total after 54 holes. Rahm bogeyed the 1st but responded with typical force. “The pin locations were no joke,” Rahm said. “I don’t know if on TV you could appreciate it, but those are some of hardest pin locations collectively I’ve ever seen.”
Mackenzie Hughes joined Rahm at minus seven, courtesy of a birdie at the 18th. Dylan Frittelli, who played alongside Spieth, is on the same aggregate. Corey Conners added a superb 66 to earlier, back-to-back rounds of 68 to move one shot clear of Rahm. The Canadian has only played in one previous Open; where he missed the cut. His key to happiness here resonates in iron play. Conners has found more than 80% of greens in regulation. During round three, he missed just one of 14 fairways. Scottie Scheffler’s 69 means there are two players at minus eight.
A punch of the air from Shane Lowry as he saved par at the last suggested he believes he has at least an outside chance of successfully defending the Claret Jug. Lowry’s 69 edged him to five under par. The Irishman birdied two of his last three holes. Should he fall short here, he will rue an opening 71. “I’m not sure I can win from here but the way I’m playing, I can shoot six under,” Lowry said. “I’m very happy with how I played today. Standing on the 15th tee, one over par playing the golf I was was quite frustrating. The way I battled and even just to hole those three putts at the end gives me a little bit of confidence.” Paul Casey is also in the group at five under, as therefore one behind Marcel Siem, Justin Harding and Cameron Smith.
A bizarre week for Bryson DeChambeau continued as a 72 slid him back to plus three. The links conundrum is thus far one DeChambeau struggles with. “This is, by far, the hardest tournament to figure out,” he said. “This one keeps me scratching my head.” DeChambeau presumably enjoyed a smile at the travails of his arch nemesis Brooks Koepka, who looked a leading contender at the start of day three. Koepka instead hit reverse gear, with a 72 as leaves him three under. Perhaps we will now be spared at least a few days of social-media swipes. Then again.