Final rounds of the British Open at Carnoustie are historically weird and wondrous.
The table again looks set for something memorable.
Heading into Sunday, the Open leaderboard was a densely packed mix of players on the rise, established threats and megastars from different golfing generations: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and again, at long last, Tiger Woods.
Spieth, a leader of the new wave, has not won a tournament since last year’s British Open as he has struggled, above all, with his putting. But he was pressure-proof on Saturday with a bogey-free round of 65 that gave him a share of the lead at nine under par with two fellow Americans, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner.
Kevin Chappell, another American, is in fourth place at seven under, followed by Francesco Molinari of Italy at six under and seven players at five under: Woods, McIlroy, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Alex Noren, Matt Kuchar and Tommy Fleetwood.
Still in touch at four under is Justin Rose, the English star who broke loose in calm conditions on Saturday morning to shoot a 64, the lowest score of the day.
Although the wind picked up in the late afternoon, Carnoustie was far from its nastiest, and it has generally been a long way from brutal.
“Car-nice-ty,” quipped Johnny Miller, the 1976 Open champion who is now an NBC analyst.
The course, which has inflicted so much pain through the decades, was certainly there for the birdieing.
“It was the day to be aggressive today,” Molinari said. “There was not a lot of wind, and after the rain, yes, the course is a little bit softer.”
Rose, who started the day at three over par, set the tone, and Woods took the hint with a throwback performance that had Scottish fans rushing to join his gallery.
Woods, deploying his driver regularly and effectively, had six birdies and just one bogey and even took a share of the lead at six under for close to 30 minutes.
“Seeing what guys were shooting, I thought I had to go out and get it,” he said.
Though he would drop back as the later starters made their moves, Woods dodged major danger at Carnoustie’s perilous and watery 18th, where his tee shot just missed landing in the trench known as the Barry Burn. He finished with a 66, his best round at a major since his 66 in the second round of the 2011 Masters.
He will not be the leader this time, but of those ahead of him, only Spieth has won a major: the Masters and United States Open in 2015 and the British Open at Royal Birkdale last year.
After successfully fiddling with his putting technique earlier in the week, Spieth will try to repeat at the same course where Jean van de Velde blew a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Open before losing in a playoff to Paul Lawrie. It is also the course where Sergio Garcia just missed a would-be winning putt in 2007 on the 72nd hole before losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington.
Spieth has imploded with a Sunday lead before, faltering at the 2016 Masters. But after shooting a 65 at Birkdale in the third round last year, he overcame a shaky start in the final round to go five under on the last five holes.
“I felt like I had something I had to prove to other people with last year’s Open and to myself, really to myself more than anything,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have to prove anything to anyone at this point. I’m playing golf for me now. I’ve kind of got a cleared mind. I’ve made a lot of progress over the year that’s been kind of an off year, a building year.”
Schauffele, like Spieth, is 24. But while Spieth turned professional midway through his sophomore year at the University of Texas, Schauffele played for a year at Long Beach State and for three more at San Diego State, then turned professional in 2015. On Sunday they will be paired in the final group.
“He was out on tour while I was still in college,” Schauffele said. “I watched him on TV a lot more than anyone else in my class, so it’s cool to be out here.”