CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - Jordan Spieth says he will “expect the unexpected” when he tees off in the final pairing at the British Open on Sunday 18 holes away from retaining the Claret Jug he won last year.
The 24-year-old American put himself in a three-way tie for the lead with compatriots Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner after a superb third-round 65 on Saturday.
With the experience of three major triumphs, the Texan looks favourite to complete the job on Sunday. However, with only six shots separating the top 27 and a westerly wind expected to blow, Spieth is taking nothing for granted.
“It will be more difficult tomorrow in the wind for sure,” Spieth, who launched his third round with an eagle after driving the first green and then took full advantage of the perfect scoring conditions, told reporters.
“I think maybe a little bit tomorrow just to expect the unexpected. It’s ideal for Carnoustie to have a bunched leaderboard and 25mph winds on Sunday.
“It means that someone could post a score from six hours before and potentially win the golf tournament. You’re in a scenario almost like the U.S. Open this year at Shinnecock, like that Saturday at the U.S. Open-type scenario.”
Ominously for the others who will start with high hopes on Sunday, Spieth appears to have played his way into top form with impeccable timing. After a rough opening round in which he dropped four shots in his last four holes for a one-over 72, he has posted rounds of 67 and 65.
While Friday’s effort was mainly a result of his superb scrambling skills, Saturday’s was clinical.
He hit 83 percent of greens in regulation, hit 67 percent of fairways and needed only 29 putts - one of which gave him a birdie on the 16th hole that had pestered him for two days.
Spieth said that while Saturday’s round was spectacular it was his gritty effort on Friday that was “huge”.
“I think yesterday was probably tied with today, in my mind, to get back into a golf tournament from being out of it, and then today to springboard that into pole position,” he said.
“That was the combination of the two are up there in the top five for sure. But today’s round was just really, really solid.
“It can improve a little bit, but all aspects of the game got better today.”
One of the players lurking in the pack behind the three leaders is Tiger Woods — the 14-time major champion whose decline as a force has coincided with Spieth’s meteoric rise.
They will not be playing together but with Woods tied sixth - four shots back - it is the closest Spieth has got to fighting out the last day of a major with a man he used to play imaginary games against as a kid.
“I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger. Who hasn’t? It’s kind of a dream come true to have the opportunity,” he said.
“I think I played it out at Augusta in my head.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar