Tiger Woods poised for Open strike as Jordan Spieth relishes battle
Tiger Woods was positively buzzing, knowing he is within touching distance of perhaps the greatest feat of his storied career.
Twelve years since he won the Open, 10 years since he last won a major, five since he won any tournament.
And with a body repeatedly put back together, for now holding up as he launches a very real bid to add to his haul of 14 majors.
Woods briefly shared the lead on a pulsating third day of the Open at Carnoustie before ending four shots back in the slipstream of defending champion Jordan Spieth, his Carnoustie housemate Kevin Kisner and fellow American Xander Schauffele.
“I’ve got a chance in this,” Woods said, beaming that ice-white smile.
“Given what happened the last few years I didn’t know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance Sunday in a major championship.”
‘Dream come true’
Spieth can make history of his own — a second straight Open title would make him only the second player after Woods to win four majors before his 25th birthday. Next month he bids to complete the career grand slam of all four major titles in the US PGA.
He would also become the first player to win back-to-back Opens since Padraig Harrington, who began with a maiden Claret Jug here at Carnoustie in 2007.
“It’s very cool looking at it from a big-picture point of view but my head will be down,” said Spieth.
And beating a resurgent Woods to achieve it is something the Texan is relishing.
“I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger — who hasn’t?” said Spieth, who was 14 when Woods won his last major.
“It’s kind of a dream come true just to have the opportunity.”
The joint was jumping
If Sunday is anything like Saturday it will be a blast.
Everywhere you looked there were fireworks.
They don’t call it Moving Day for nothing and this one was seismic.
First, Justin Rose set the tone with a stunning 64. Then Spieth drove the first green and made an eagle to leap into contention.
Making his own mark, Woods drained a long birdie putt on the ninth and made a tap-in birdie on 10 to rocket onto the giant yellow leaderboards around the course for the first time.
The joint was jumping and the leaders hadn’t set out yet.
For those watching on TV it was like a crazy arcade shoot-’em up, with action everywhere. For those at Carnoustie with F.O.M.O (Fear of Missing Out) it must have been torture as roars sprang up from everywhere, like geysers erupting at random.
Moving Day is when the pack gets shuffled for Sunday’s final hand, but this one was like throwing the deck into a stiff Scottish breeze.
When the cards settled, Spieth took up his familiar position at the head of the Open, 12 months after that remarkable victory — sparked by an unlikely escape via the practice ground — at Royal Birkdale.
The 24-year-old fired a 65 to push the lead to nine under and was joined late on by his countrymen.
Another American Kevin Chappell was two back on seven under with Italian Francesco Molinari on six and a group of seven, including Woods and Rory McIlroy, at five under.
‘Stay within reach’
Fleetingly, Woods grabbed a share of the lead with a birdie at the 15th, but dropped back again at 16.
The three-time champion got a massive break on the 18th, pulling his drive left and missing the water hazard by a couple of yards. He’d dodged a bullet and took advantage by laying up in front of the Barry Burn and then firing a dart to a few feet to save his par.
The round of 66 was his lowest in a major since the Masters in 2011.
“I didn’t want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 under par. I had to stay within reach,” he said.
Woods’ last major victory — the US Open at Torrey Pines — was almost supernatural, given the number of times he chipped in or holed long putts while playing with the pain of what turned out to be a fractured leg.
Arguably, it was more stunning than his iconic Pebble Beach US Open win of 2000 when he won by a record 15 shots.
Asked where victory at Carnoustie would rank, he flashed that radiant smile again.
“We’re not there yet,” he chided the reporter in jest. “I know what you’re trying to say in asking but let me try to get there first. Then ask me again.” He may not have answered the question but his glowing face said it all. He was delighted to have been asked.
Woods has been close in majors since 2008 — in the following five years he had nine top-six finishes, including a playoff defeat by South Korea’s YE Yang in the 2009 US PGA at Hazeltine.
Scandal in his private life broke later that year, tipping his whole compass off-axis.
Ace in the pack
Since 2013 he has been hampered by the back issue that required four major operations, including spine fusion surgery last April.
It took him to a dark place where he feared he may not be able to play actively with his kids again, let alone play professional golf to a high level.
So given the backstory, the thrill of the competition lit Woods up like a beacon Saturday.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this,” he said.
Questions have long since dried up about whether Woods thinks he can pass Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, but they will certainly resurface should he triumph Sunday.
Spieth will draw on his experience and “expect the unexpected” after his drama at Birkdale and his infamous Masters collapse in 2016, but he says he has nothing to prove to anyone but himself now.
All of the field will be mindful of what happened at Carnoustie in 1999, when Jean van de Velde’s dream drowned in the Barry Burn and Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots back on the final day to win.
With 19 players within five shots of the lead, and healthy winds forecast for Sunday, it’s anyone’s guess where the ace is in the pack.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Woods.