CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Jordan Spieth played like last year, Tiger Woods played like a few years back, Rory McIlroy played, finally, the way he was supposed to play. This is the British Open that golf has needed.
Three rounds into the 147th Open, Spieth is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, and a surprising Woods and enterprising McIlroy are only four shots behind, with players such as Francisco Molinari and Zach Johnson very much in contention
You could say the whole scenario was scripted in Holywood, which is pronounced “Hollywood” and is McIlroy’s hometown in Northern Ireland.
The weather at Carnoustie has been spectacular, and so has the golf, on a course called by many the toughest of any in the Open rotation.
With but a negligible wind for the first three rounds and a light rain early Friday as the course’s only defense, the best golfers in the world have poured in birdies in an attempt to possess the Claret Jug for the next year, the one Spieth earned in 2017, and Woods and McIlroy have won in previous years.
But Spieth — who opened with an eagle after driving the 396-yard first hole and shot a 6-under-par 65 — Schauffele (67) and Kisner (68), who all are tied for first at 9-under 204, are not thinking what is but what might be.
“We got pretty much a new tournament,” said Spieth, alluding as much to the weather — expected to be a lot windier Sunday — as the golfers.
It’s quite a group. Toss in Webb Simpson (67-208), who won the 2012 U.S. Open; Matt Kuchar (70-208), second to Spieth in the 2017 British; Tommy Fleetwood (71-208), who shot a final-round 63 at the U.S. Open and finished second; and Justin Rose (64-209), the 2013 U.S. Open champ, who shot Saturday’s low round. Former British Open winners McIlroy (70) and Johnson (72) also are at 208.
Tiger? He’s been promising a round like this and his one-bogey 66 also puts him in the large group at 208 with only Kevin Chappell (67-206) and world No. 15 Molinari (65-207) between them and the leaders. Now the young stars understand what it was like in the early 2000s.
“Yeah, I saw he played pretty well today,” Spieth, 24, said of the 43-year-old Woods, whom he grew up idolizing. “He seemed confident walking off the putting green today. And the way he’s striking those 2 or 3 irons, he’s certainly going to be in [the mix Sunday], which is very exciting for us. I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger, who hasn’t?”
He gets the chance. So does Kisner, who was overtaken in last year’s PGA Championship the final day by Justin Thomas, and Schauffele, the San Diego State alum who was taught golf by his engineer father.
“I love the course,” said Kisner, who grew up in South Carolina. “I love the aspect of getting the ball on the fairway and not having to pound driver.”
Asked what it might be like to hoist the jug and be declared “The Champion Golfer of the Year,” Kisner said, “I can figure that out by [late] tomorrow night.”
Schauffele, the 2017 PGA Rookie of the Year, has two top 10s in the U.S. Open and he tied for 20th in last year’s British.
“I try to have some fun and stay out of the pot bunkers and make some putts,” said Schauffele, who has been doing all of the above. “I think I just enjoy playing links golf overseas.”
McIlroy, who has won each of the majors except the Masters, grew up near a links course, Portrush, where the British will be held in 2019.
“I just need to get off to a fast start tomorrow,” he said. “I’m obviously disappointed in the way that I finished.” He bogeyed 16 and 18, damaging what would have been an excellent round.
“I putted well,” said McIlroy, who collapsed in this year’s Masters, basically because he didn’t putt well, falling from second to sixth the last day. “If I can just make birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow . . . but it will be interesting. The wind’s going to be up, and there are a lot of guys who feel like they have chance.”
Because they do. That scoreboard is a listing of champions. It couldn’t have been scripted any better.