Jordan Spieth set out in his final round in the British Open at Carnoustie on Sunday as he aims to join the elite group of golfers to have retained the Claret Jug.
The American star started the day level on nine under par alongside compatriots Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner and he is hoping for a repeat of his victory at Royal Birkdale 12 months ago, although there is a large chasing pack ready to pounce, with Tiger Woods right in the mix.
Spieth shot a superb six-under-par 65 in benign conditions on Saturday to catapult himself up the leaderboard as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington, the last player to retain the Claret Jug a decade ago.
There would be a sense of symmetry to the achievement if Spieth does win on Scotland’s North Sea coast — Harrington’s double came at Carnoustie in 2007 and then Birkdale in 2008.
Spieth has his work cut out though, with the leaderboard so closely packed that at least 20 players started Sunday believing they could win the Claret Jug.
Woods, who won back-to-back Opens himself in 2005 and 2006, is one of them. He began his round in a group of players four shots off the pace at five-under after thrilling huge galleries with a round of 66 on Saturday.
“I’ve always wanted to battle it out in a major with Tiger. Who hasn’t? It’s kind of a dream come true just to have the opportunity,” said the 24-year-old Spieth.
“It’s nice that he’s on point. It’s really good for the sport, obviously, for the extra interest.”
Woods, now 42 and without a major win since 2008 as personal problems and health issues have stalled his career, is playing with Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who was the best-placed European at six under par.
That pairing were followed by American Kevin Chappell, who was seven-under, and Kisner. Schauffele and Spieth teed off in the last pairing at 2:45pm (1345 GMT).
“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this,” Woods said on Saturday in comments that might seem somewhat ominous for his rivals.
He is on course for his best performance at a major since coming tied sixth in the British Open at Muirfield in 2013.
“I played pretty similar to this at the Players Championship. Obviously, the ‘fifth major’, possibly, but not like this in one of these big four events.”
Schauffele and Kisner are both bidding to win a first major, with the latter hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s US PGA Championship, when he led going into the final day but finished in a tie for seventh.
While the weather on Sunday morning in Carnoustie was warm and sunny, the wind that can be so dangerous here has finally picked up and conditions are set to be tougher over the afternoon.
“Judging by the conditions and what’s going to be going on, I would imagine it’s going to be more of a grind all day,” said Kisner, who has been sharing a house with Spieth and several other American stars in Scotland this week.
The group of players level with Woods at five-under overnight also included the likes of Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood.
Americans have won the last five majors, but McIlroy has played well enough this week to believe he can claim a first major since 2014, when he did the double of British Open and US PGA Championship.
“I’m still in the tournament. I’m only a few shots behind. The wind is supposed to pick up a little bit. So it will make things interesting,” said McIlroy, whose Open victory came at Hoylake.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood is the most likely to become the first English winner of the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
He holds the course record at Carnoustie with a 63 at the Dunhill Championship last year and also shot 63 on the final day of the US Open last month to finish second behind Brooks Koepka.
The best round from the earlier starters on Sunday came from Australia’s Jason Day, whose three-under-par 68 left him two-under for the championship.