On a soft summer afternoon here on the edge of the Irish Sea, Branden Grace owned the day while Jordan Spieth may soon own the Claret Jug.
In both cases, history is in play.
Spieth stamped his Texas-sized imprint on this British Open Championship when it began and he has remained there through the wind, the rain, the chill, the sunshine, more wind, more rain and, again, more sunshine.
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If Spieth can finish Sunday what he has constructed over three grinding rounds at Royal Birkdale, he will be three-quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam at 23 and come to the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in three weeks looking to join the most exclusive club in professional golf.
Two years ago at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Spieth came within one stroke of a playoff eventually won by Zach Johnson, having already won the first two major championships of the year. He has another chance Sunday as he leads Matt Kuchar by three strokes and everyone else by at least six.
South Carolina-born Dustin Johnson is the No. 1 player in the world rankings and Rickie Fowler possesses a rare popularity, but Spieth feels like the soul of American golf. He looks at home weaving between the ancient grass-covered dunes that give Birkdale its character, walking at times like a man in a hurry while talking to himself, particularly in those moments when his ball or the wind didn’t fully cooperate with his intentions.
I understand how leads can be squandered and how leads can be built on.
Jordan Spieth, British Open leader heading into final round
Every golfer in this field plays with a purpose, but Spieth wears it like a suntan. Until his wedge-tossing victory celebration three weeks ago when he won the Travelers Championship, there was some thought Spieth had modestly underachieved this year. It wasn’t so much true as it was a measure of the expectations surrounding the third-ranked player in the world.
More than any other player near the top, Spieth knows what Sunday brings.
“I’m in a position where it will be very advantageous, everything I’ve been (through), the good, the bad and everything in the middle,” Spieth said. “I understand how leads can be squandered and how leads can be built on.”
The question now is whether anyone will beat Spieth on Sunday.
Kuchar starts the closest to Spieth and would extend the string of first-time major champions to eight if he can win. Kuchar is the essence of steady in a game that ebbs and flows, but he’s never had a better chance to win a major than this one. There is, however, the not so small matter of Spieth.
It’s possible, too, that someone can come racing from behind the way Grace did Saturday when he became the first player to shoot 62 in major championship history. Since Johnny Miller shot 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club (Pa.), 31 players had rounds of 63 in majors, but Grace broke the barrier in the 442nd major championship.
I had no idea that 62 was obviously the lowest ever.
Branden Grace, after setting the major championship record on Saturday
Grace wasn’t aware of what he’d done until his caddie told him after he holed the final putt.
“I had no idea that 62 was obviously the lowest ever,” said Grace, who won the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, S.C., last year.
It came on a gentle day when Grace said par was more realistically 67 than 70 as the scorecard said.
“You still have to do it out there,” Grace said.
Three weeks from now, Quail Hollow Club will be the stage. What it lacks in dunes, gorse and cool temperatures, it more than makes up for with American-style golf course muscle and a sprawl of hospitality chalets that will give the Southpark area its own tented village.
By Sunday evening at Royal Birkdale, Jordan Spieth might have the Claret Jug to bring to Quail Hollow.
With the career Grand Slam leading him there.