Spieth surges towards Open title as McIlroy struggles

After holding a share of the first-round lead with countrymen Jordan Spieth and US Open champion Brooks Koepka, Kuchar posted a one-over-par 71 in brutal conditions on Friday (Saturday NZ Time) to hold firm.

Spieth, a two-time major victor, led overnight by three strokes after a birdie on 18, while Kuchar saw his attempt slide by the hole.

A birdie on the ninth revived hopes of a title challenge, but the 2014 champion barely escaped a fairway bunker on the 10th on his way to a double-bogey six.

But most people will be aware of his meltdown at Augusta a year ago when he failed to hold on to a four shot lead on the final six holes. But playing partner Kuchar kept in touch with three birdies of his own.

Defending champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden stayed in contention with a 69 while world number one Dustin Johnson of the United States and four-times major victor Rory McIlroy battled to one-over 71s.

It is typical, though, of the level-headed and thoughtful Spieth that he considers that disastrous Sunday a memory that doesn't need to be blocked out.

The lowest score in major championship history was already in the books Saturday when Spieth was still warming up on the range at Royal Birkdale.

Spieth won The Masters and US Open in 2015 and will be looking to complete the third leg of a career Grand Slam today after a wonderful third round, during which he went head to head with Kuchar for 18 holes.

That led one sympathetic journalist to suggest to him he must be proud that he fought back and showed true character.

Ryder Cup team-mates Kuchar and Spieth will play alongside each other again in the final round.

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"It's a little bit tougher to sleep, but I've been fine recently", he said after Saturday's round.

"I had 145 yards into a slight breeze, so I hit a really solid 9-iron and it didn't get any better than that", he explained with some modesty.

Open champion in 2014 at Hoylake and a four-time major victor, McIlroy admitted it took some strong words from his caddy JP Fitzgerald to help him recover.

Now it's up to him to close and make history.

"I couldn't have done much better", admitted the Texan, even if he agonisingly failed to convert a putt for birdie at 18.

"I definitely feel like today was an opportunity lost to get right in the mix going into tomorrow", McIlroy said. "I'm very excited for tomorrow".

"Just play a good round of golf and see where that finishes me, I guess". "But that's probably the most important thing for me to do". He matched Kuchar's birdie on the third hole to stay one shot ahead. "But when I made a mistake, I was able to be resilient and bounce back".

Even those odds — unusually long for McIlroy — looked way too short when the world No. 4 pulled his tee shot at the first, had a flier to the right of the green with his second shot, sent his chip shot through the green with his third, and two-putted for bogey. In majors, 31 players have shot 63, including 10 in the Open, but 62 had become untouchable. I'm certainly not out of it.

That was an eight-shot improvement on Thursday and although he dropped shots on the 13th and 15th, a birdie on the 17th helped McIlroy climb into a tie for sixth with Richard Bland, Austin Connelly and Gary Woodland.

"I understand that leads can be squandered quickly, and I also understand how you can keep on rolling on one", he said.


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