Jordan Spieth leads Matt Kuchar by three shots heading into the final round of the Open Championship after a gripping battle between the pair at Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
Spieth, 23, finished the day 11-under with a final birdie that Kuchar (eight—under) was unable to match. It opens up a clear gap for the young Texan who will clinch his third major if he can hold his nerve on Sunday (22 July).
Brooks Koepka, Austin Connelly (five-under) and Branden Grace and Hideki Matsuyama (four-under) head into the final day tied for third and fifth respectively.
And on a day that started with so much promise for Rory McIlroy where he moved to within two shots of the lead, his hopes of challenging on the final day now appear to be over having fallen nine shots off Spieth by the end of play.
Spieth meanwhile was imperious from the off, masterfully draining one on the third before back-to-back birdies on the eighth and ninth which saw him move to nine-under, two clear of nearest challenger Kuchar. The elder American diligently kept pace with the two-time major champion, however, and was finally able to close the gap to a single shot on the 14th hole, sinking a wonderfully measured effort from 12 feet out for his fifth birdie of the round.
On the 15th par-five, Spieth looked to have left the door open for Kuchar to move level when he dragged his third shot 10 foot wide. Cool as ever, however, he stroked it home to move 10-under, albeit with Kuchar keeping pace with a birdie of his own.
Storm clouds had been gathering menacingly and it was at that point with three holes left where the Texan found a decisive break. Or rather, it was handed to him. Spieth missed the opportunity to birdie himself, but was given a reprieve as he watched his opponent fall three shots back after a double bogey.
But following Kucher into the bunker from his tee shot on the 17th however, the grin was quickly wiped from his face as his opponent closed the lead to just two again. But while Spieth held his nerve to register one last birdie from further out on the last shot of the day, Kuchar lost his.
Rory McIlroy's challenge now all but over
McIlroy had steadily grown into a force once again after a disastrous first half to his opening round on Thursday and looked reborn as he took to the greens on Saturday. Teeing off just before Spieth, the Northern Irishman holed three birdies from his first five holes, including an exquisite 20 yard chip on the second to jump to four-under par.
Bogeys on the seventh and eighth took the wind of out his sails, however, and on the 10th, his championship hopes took a sizeable blow after he bunkered from the fairway. Unable to get his chipped effort right, he settled for a double bogey to fall six shots off the lead – a gap that would grow as the day wore on.
Ian Poulter exploded into life during the first two rounds and had placed himself right among it with an overnight score of three-under. But his hopes for a first career major evaporated in no time as he fell off the pace after three consecutive bogeys. A much needed birdie on the 15th steadied the ship and allowed him to finish the day two-under but it is likely to prove too little too late.
Earlier in the afternoon, Grace carded a 62 eight-under par, a lowest ever course score at Royal Birkdale Golf Club which ensured he will be part of the chasing pack on the final day.