ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Let us be the doubters, the ones who keep reminding Jordan Spieth what he’s trying to accomplish. We’ll tell him this has been done only once in the long history of golf, by the great Ben Hogan, and that it borders between improbable and unlikely — if not somewhere around impossible.
Spieth is a man apart, and man is the proper identification, not because he has reached his majority, age 21, but because he accepts the task at hand: winning a third straight major championship this year — and, lordy, maybe even a fourth — with an almost unreal zealousness.
Maybe he comes from a shot off the pace today in a British Open that because of weather has been extended an extra day. His chances do seem excellent with his game and his attitude, but even if he falls short, he’s going out unintimidated on the Old Course in this most famous of golfing towns.
Only Hogan in 1953 won a year’s first three major championships — in order, the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open — and he couldn’t play in the PGA Championship because of scheduling. No one has won all four in a calendar year; Tiger Woods held all four at once but in different calendar years.
Spieth has taken the Masters and, a month ago, the U.S. Open. Could he make it three in a row, like Hogan, or does he get halted at two, like Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and Arnold Palmer in 1960?
When the third round of this 144th Open Championship ended on a day of the week’s best weather so far, with almost no wind and only a brief morning rain, Paul Dunne of Ireland — an amateur, no less, who graduated from Alabama-Birmingham — was tied for first with Jason Day and the winner of the last Open at St. Andrews in 2010, Louis Oosthuizen. Each had a 12-under par total of 204, Dunne after a six-under 66, Oosthuizen and Day after 67s.
But only a shot behind, after his own 66, was Spieth, who had said after three-putting five holes and coming in with a 72 in the second round, “I can still win this thing.” Darn right he can. And so can the three who share first. And so can Padraig Harrington (65, 206) and Marc Leishman, who after a 64 is at 207 with seemingly half the people who wedge into Dunvegan’s pub every night. Third-round leader Dustin Johnson shot 75, so he’s in that group, if not in Dunvegan’s.
It’s Spieth who draws our attention. In sport, you’re always trying to separate yourself from the rest, to what is unique or at least rare. American Pharoah became the first horse to take racing’s Triple Crown in 37 years. Serena Williams has a good chance to win a calendar Grand Slam in tennis for the first time in 27 years. Spieth going into the wild, final day of the British has a chance to do what never has been done — although the magnificent Bobby Jones did sweep the U.S. and British Opens and U.S. and British Amateurs in 1930.
Pressure? “I’m not sure,” said Spieth. “It hasn’t come up in my head while I’ve been playing yet. I can’t speak for [Monday], given it’s the last round, and if I have a chance coming down the stretch, it if creeps in, I’ll embrace it. I don’t look at it as a negative thing.
“I look at it almost as an advantage. If it adds more pressure, it just makes me feel like this is something a little more special.”
Not a little more. A great deal more. He embraces it, hugs it.
“I’d like to have the opportunity to have a chance to do something nobody’s ever done,” Spieth said. “And so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more, to be able to try and go into the last major [the PGA in August] and accomplish something that only comes to a couple people ever, and I’d like to be one of those people.”
Two people who came to the British with a Slam shot were two of the greatest ever, Arnie and Jack. For Palmer, the try was stopped here at St. Andrews when, despite a birdie on the 72nd hole, he was one short of Kel Nagle. Nicklaus got beat in 1972 at Muirfield when, after Jack made up six shots the final day, Lee Trevino chipped in on the 17th hole, the 71st, to win by one.
Things like that happen in golf, a sport where there’s no defense. “I’m going to play to win,” said Spieth. Which is the only way to play, particularly with a Claret Jug on the table and so much more.Bobby JonesBritish OpenJack NicklausJOrdan SpiethLouis OosthuizenPaul DunneSt. Andrews