CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) — Jordan Spieth set the tone pulling driver on the 396-yard opening hole and sending it bouncing and rolling to 10 feet for eagle. Moments later, Tiger Woods sent the gallery into a frenzy with three straight birdies to get into contention at a major for the first time in five years.
On a day of calm conditions, low scores and endless cheers, the biggest buzz on Saturday was anticipating what the final round might bring.
“We’ve got pretty much a new tournament tomorrow,” Spieth said.
Spieth rode his eagle to a bogey-free round of 6-under 65, giving him a three-way tie for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, and giving him a chance to become the first player in 10 years to win back-to-back at the British Open.
Schauffele, the PGA Tour rookie of the year last season, holed a 30-foot putt from behind the 18th green for a 67.
Kisner made a tough par save on the 17th and saved par again from behind the 18th green for a 68.
They were at 9-under 204.
And for the first time, all of them get to experience a final round at a major with Woods in the hunt.
Woods started quietly enough with a few birdies through eight holes, not exceptional because Justin Rose already matched the course record at Carnoustie for the British Open with a 64. But Woods rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 9, followed with short birdie putts on the next two holes and with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, he put his name atop the leaderboard.
It was there for only 20 minutes. But it was there.
A bogey on the 16th and a par save from short of the Barry Burn on the 18th gave him a 66, his lowest score in a major since the 2011 Masters, and left him only four shots behind going into the final round. Woods, winless in the majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, hasn’t been this close to the lead going into the final round at a major since he was two shots back at Muirfield five years ago.
“I’m right there,” he said. “I’ve got a chance at this, which is great.”
And he has company.
Kevin Chappell, who spent most of his round watching Spieth put on a show, birdied the 18th for a 67 and was two shots behind.
Francesco Molinari had a 66 and will play in the third-to-last group with Woods. They were last together three weeks ago when Woods presented him the trophy at the Quicken Loans National after Molinari shot 62 for an eight-shot victory.
Twelve players were separated by four shots, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Zach Johnson. They all dropped shots on a day when there was no time to be going backward. McIlroy was within two shots of the lead until bogeys on two of his last three holes for a 70 left him four behind.
Johnson, staying in the same house as Kisner, Spieth and four other Americans, hooked his approach on No. 12 and three-putted for a double bogey. He shot 72 and was in the group four behind. Joining them was Tommy Fleetwood, who dropped three shots in two holes on the back nine on his way to a 71.
Of the five players separated by three shots, only Spieth has experience winning a major.
Not since Woods in 2006 has the defending champion gone into the final round with at least a share of the lead. The biggest advantage he sees is to “expect the unexpected,” and the most windy conditions of the week might make it every bit of that.
The opening hole is 396 yards on the card, with the fairway getting narrow between two bunkers. Spieth, who spent Saturday morning watching the Open on television, asked caddie Michael Greller on the practice range, “Do we like driver?”
Greller told him no. Play short and it’s a wedge to a front pin, easy birdie chance.
Spieth walked to the tee with coach Cameron McCormick and asked him, “How about I just send it on No. 1?”
“I felt good about the range session. And he’s like, ‘I put my chips behind anything you decide, always.’ And that kind of gave me that little extra boost,” Spieth said.
He stuffed his approach to 2 feet on No. 4 and had a few more short birdie putts until he came to the par-3 16th, when his 5-iron settled 12 feet away for his longest putt of the day.
This is the 16th time he has been in at least a share of the lead in the majors in the five years he has been playing them on a regular basis.
Kisner had the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship last year.
“I would imagine it’s going to be more of a grind all day,” he said of the final round. “I don’t foresee guys going out and making four or five birdies in the first eight or nine holes. But who knows? They’re damn good players.”