To this point, golf’s major championships in 2021 have been revolutionary in nature.
For context, the Masters broke new ground with Hideki Matsuyama as its champion — the first Japanese player to conquer Augusta. The PGA featured more unprecedented stuff, as Phil Mickelson became the first player in his 50s to win a major. The U.S. Open produced another initiation, with Jon Rahm becoming the first Spaniard to prevail.
But this last one — this British Open at regal Royal St. George’s — this is about revival.
On a British Open Saturday that felt more like a heart-stopping Sunday, Louis Oosthuizen, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth took seats at the table, seeking resurrection, chasing another major.
For a second night in a row, Oosthuizen will sleep on the lead. A birdie at No. 16 left the 38-year-old South African with a third-round 69 and the 54-hole lead at 12 under.
One shot back is Morikawa, who erased a rocky start with four birdies over his last 12 holes and shot a 68 to move 11 under for the week. And two more back is Spieth, who came out smoking with four red circles in his first seven holes. A stumble at the end scarred his card, but a 69 left him at 9 under.
To be sure, others are viable. Corey Connors and Scott Scheffler are at 8 under. U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm, Mackenzie Hughes and Dylan Frittelli are bunched at 7 under. Cameron Smith and Justin Harding are 6 under.
Stranger things have happened. Paul Lawrie was 10 shots back to start the final round when, with help from Jean Van de Velde, he won at Carnoustie in 1999.
But the trio on top presents the most intrigue. Oosthuizen copped a major when he won a British Open at St. Andrews in 2010. Eleven years later, he still looks for a second. And in that regard, he can tell you a thing or two about seconds. He finished there behind Mickelson at Kiawah Island earlier this year. He stumbled at the wire and finished there again at Torrey Pines, one stroke behind Rahm.
Moreover, Oosthuizen has finished second in majors an exasperating six times. Now he stares down another.
“You know, finishing second isn't great,” Oosthuizen said. “So I will play my heart out tomorrow and see if I can lift the Claret Jug again.
“I think all of us are just human to think of lifting the trophy, and that's going to be in your mind. But I think you just need to know it and how to handle it.”
After all, the laid-back Oosthuizen explained, the world is unlikely to end, regardless.
“It’s just golf,” he added.
The 24-year old Morikawa has not swallowed nearly as much frustration. But his victory at the 2020 PGA Championship was so dynamic that more of the same seemed inevitable. Making only his second major start at Harding Park in ‘20, he shot a final-round 64, outmaneuvered the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day, and tied the lowest final PGA round ever recorded.
With remarkable irons, and a fickle putter, Morikawa has been knocking at the door since — a T8 at the PGA in May, a T4 at the U.S. Open. On Sunday, playing alongside Oosthuizen, he will be one stroke and one round from an encore.
“It's a position you want to be in,” said Morikawa, who began his pro pursuits with 22 consecutive cuts made, a feat surpassed only by Tiger Woods. “As an athlete, golfer, you want to be in this position. I love it, so I really look forward to tomorrow.”
Morikawa acknowledged being a past major championship winner is good prep for being the next major championship winner.
“Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing I can draw from the PGA is just knowing I can get it done,” he said. “But I think confidence just comes from hitting good shots, quality shots, seeing putts go in. There is a lot to draw from, especially this week.”
For his part, Spieth won a British Open in 2017, after winning the Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back in 2015. He is four years removed, years without a major, years that saw him free fall to the outer depths of the world rankings.
But the 27-year-old Texan has enjoyed a renaissance these past months, winning a PGA Tour event, registering eight top-10s and restoring his confident gait.
Only one thing missing is from the comeback picture — a major.
During the third round at Royal St. George’s, Spieth was looking the part. With smart ball-striking and precision putting, he birdied five of the first 10 and moved into a tie at the top. But consecutive bogeys coming in, including a miss from 2 ½ feet on the final green, pumped the brakes.
But remember, Spieth hit pot holes at Royal Birkdale in 2017. He yielded a three-stroke lead on Sunday, only to get it back and win by three. He will begin the final with 18 holes to make up three shots.
With rain the week before, with modest winds and sunshine, Royal St. George’s has been unusually accommodating this week. Fifty-two players played the initial 36 holes of this championship under par, and 12 more were even coming into the weekend.
More postcard weather notwithstanding, the course on the English coast stiffened a bit on Saturday. The moonscape fairways hardened and diabolical hole locations made red numbers a bit more difficult. Twenty-four scores wound up in red.
“Because of the weather conditions, it's easy to think it could have been a little bit better,” Rahm said of his third-round 68. “But the pin locations were no joke. I don't know if on TV you could appreciate it, but those are some of the hardest pin locations, collectively, I've ever seen.”
The final round promises more of the same, for the weather, for the hole locations and — perhaps — for a past major championship winner.
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