From the moment he set foot on the grounds, Jordan Spieth has spoken totally respectfully of Glen Oaks Club. He continued that streak Saturday, saying the course is tougher than Pebble Beach. Beyond that, his greatest tip of the cap so far has been to play superb golf on the way to possibly making the first event here unforgettable.
Spieth shot 6-under-par 64 Saturday and finished the third round of The Northern Trust at 12 under. He has a three-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson and the knowledge that there are no sure things on a course that has quickly earned its way onto the map.
“It’s the rough, just how thick it is,” Spieth said after making eight birdies, including four without a bogey on the back nine. “This isn’t a normal week for us, with the type of rough. You miss the fairway and you walk over — if it’s downgrain, you’ve got a chance to hit it onto the green. If it’s into the grain, you’re essentially playing to run it up 20 yards short.” His first tee shot landed in some of the thick stuff, leading to a fast bogey 5.
The course, which was not built or renovated with the intention of hosting a PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoff event. It was pressed into service as a replacement for Liberty National, which was awarded the Presidents Cup this year. So, it was natural to wonder if it would stand up to the best golfers in the world. There has been no debate about that from the golfers.
“The golf course is tough. You can shoot a really good score, or not,” Johnson said after having made birdie 3 on the 18th hole to move within three of Spieth. This could be Johnson’s time to reverse the finish of Spieth’s victory over him at the 2015 U.S. Open. “Let’s be honest here. I’d rather have a three-shot lead. But it’s not that bad coming from three shots back, either, because that can change in one hole, really.”
Spieth, a three-time major winner and the current British Open champion, pointed out that the rough and slick greens can make two- or three-shot swings very possible. He had to look no further Saturday than his own twosome. He played alongside his close friend Ricky Fowler, who had been among those tied with Spieth for the lead at 6 under. Fowler shot 4-over-par 74.
Add to that Spieth’s own admission that he has been known to make things interesting in a final round, no doubt thinking of a meltdown at Augusta and a near-meltdown this year at Royal Birkdale.
“But I’ve also had cruises. I mean, Pebble Beach was an absolute cruise,” he said of his four-stroke win there in February. “It was a bogey-free 2-under par round when I had a lead by a significant margin. So, that’s what I would obviously like tomorrow. But Pebble Beach is an easier golf course than this, in my opinion.”
He added that the pitch of Glen Oaks’ greens adds to the uncertainty. So, It was a good week for him to regain his putting magic. “I just kind of created my own confidence off of a couple putts yesterday that has led to the last 27 holes or so being some of the best golf that I’ve played,” he said.
Matt Kuchar, who lost to a Spieth surge in the British Open and is tied for third at 7 under, said, “He’s a great player. You kind of expect great players to do great things, and he’s clearly on some good form.”
Kuchar and his fellow 7-unders — Paul Casey, Patrick Reed and Jon Rahm — all must decide how aggressive they should be in trying to catch someone who has won nine of the past 10 times he has held a 54-hole lead. You can always be stupid-aggressive,” Kuchar said, “but you’ve kind of got to pick your medicine.”
He and the field know it will take strong medicine to overcome the double dose of Glen Oaks and Spieth.