Old Westbury, N.Y. — Jordan Spieth delivered most of the excitement Saturday at The Northern Trust with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front nine to take the lead, and then three straight birdies on the back nine to pull away from a strong cast of contenders.
Now if he can just inject a little boredom into his life.
Spieth matched the low score of the tournament at Glen Oaks Club with a 6-under 64, giving him a three-shot lead over Dustin Johnson as he tries to embellish an already strong reputation as a closer.
Based on the last few months, however, his record only looks good on paper.
“It’s easier to win from that position. You’ve got an advantage on the field,” Spieth said. “But look at my last lead — three shots, and that was gone by the fourth hole. Anything can happen on Sunday.”
He was referring to the British Open, where he lost a comfortable lead in the first hour, finally fell behind on the 13th hole and then put together one of the best finishing stretches in major championship history at Royal Birkdale to beat Matt Kuchar.
He could have just as easily been referring to The Travelers a month earlier, where he struggled so mightily with his putting that he had to save par from a bunker to get into a playoff, then won on the first extra hole by holing a bunker shot.
“I imagine it’s not like guys that were chasing Tiger where you almost feel hopeless and you try and do all you can,” Spieth said. “Because I’ve shown that things can get a little off, and have to get back on track.”
He was on the right track on another glorious afternoon of sunshine on Long Island. It was the second straight day that Spieth filled his card with birdies on the easier back nine at Glen Oaks — a 30 on Friday, a 31 on Saturday.
Johnson, his regular partner at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, failed to take advantage until he stuffed his approach into 4 feet on the 18th hole for a birdie and a 67 to narrow the gap and get into the final group with Spieth.
Spieth was at 12-under 198, and his reputation — even for a 24-year-old in his fifth year on the PGA Tour — is as daunting as the size of his lead. Spieth has a 9-5 record with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, including nine of his last 10.
“Ten except for one hole,” he said with a smile, referring to the quadruple bogey he made on the 12th hole at Augusta National that cost him the 2016 Masters.
Paul Casey, who seems to play his best golf this time of the year, and defending champion Patrick Reed each hat a 66 and were next in line at five shots back, along with Jon Rahm (67) and Kuchar (68).
Missing from the mix are Jhonattan Vegas and Rickie Fowler, who started the third round as part of the four-way tie for the lead that included Spieth and Johnson. Vegas shot a 72 to fall eight shots behind. Fowler, playing with Spieth, opened with five bogeys in six shots and fell 10 shots behind after a 74.
“A five-shot lead requires two things — a really good round from whoever is coming from behind and the leader to stumble a little bit,” Rahm said. “And Spieth is not known for being one to stumble.”
Spieth would love nothing more than a Sunday like Pebble Beach, where he had a six-shot lead and closed with two birdies, no bogeys and no excitement.
“I don’t expect it, though,” Spieth said.
He didn’t have reason to believe he would have a three-shot lead when the third round began with so many players in the mix. Johnson took the early lead with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 third hole, and then Spieth began the first of two big runs. He holed birdie putts of 20 feet, 12 feet and 25 feet over a four-hole stretch, and looked as though the lead would get even bigger when he settled over an 8-foot birdie chance on the ninth hole.
And then he three-putted with an aggressive stroke on a downhill putt. Spieth bounced back with a birdie on the 10th, and then after failing to birdie the lone par 5 on the back nine, he went back to work with the putter with a 10-foot birdie on No. 14, a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 15th and a shot into 4 feet on the 16th for three in a row.
Johnson stopped hitting it close and twice had to work hard not to lose ground.
At three shots behind, he still looms as a big threat as the No. 1 player in the world whose game is rounding back into the form that made him appear to be so unbeatable until his back injury before the Masters.
“Let’s be honest here — I’d rather have a three-shot lead,” Johnson said. “But it’s not that bad coming from three shots back, either, because that can change in one hole, really. But obviously, Jordan is playing really well, so he’s going to be tough to beat tomorrow. … If I can drive it well again tomorrow and maybe hole a couple putts, maybe some of his putting will rub off on me and I’ll start holing them.”
Spieth will be going for his fourth victory of the year, one that would make him the front-runner for PGA Tour player of the year.
Brooke Henderson made a big move in the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to the delight of her many home fans.
The 19-year-old major champion from nearby Smiths Falls shot a course-record 8-under 63 to get into contention at Ottawa Hunt, finishing before most of the other leaders even teed off.
“I knew I had to get going,” Henderson said. “Today is moving day, and I moved, that’s for sure.”
A day after birdieing the par-5 18th to make the weekend cut on the number, Henderson had eight birdies in her bogey-free round to reach 7 under — leaving her three strokes behind third-round leaders Nicole Broch Larsen and Mo Martin.
Larsen, an LPGA Tour rookie from Denmark, birdied two of the last three holes for a 66.
Martin birdied the final two holes for a 67. She won the 2014 Women’s British Open for her lone tour title.
Second-round leader In Gee Chun was a stroke back after a 70.
Cristie Kerr (68) and Mirim Lee (66) were 8 under.
Jerry Kelly shot a 6-under 66 take a three-stroke lead in the Boeing Classic, putting him in position for his first PGA Tour Champions title.
Tied for the first-round lead with Australian David McKenzie, Kelly saved par with a 12-foot putt on the par-5 18th at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge to remain 13 under.
Kelly had five birdies in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of the round. The three-time PGA Tour winner is making his 13th senior start after turning 50 in November.
Billy Mayfair (65) and Jerry Smith (66) were tied for second.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer (65) was another stroke back along with Colin Montgomerie (65). Langer also won the 2010 event. He has a tour-high four victories this year, winning three of the tour’s five major championships.
Michael Allen (66), Scott Dunlap (67), David Frost (68) and Marco Dawson (70) were 8 under.
McKenzie had a 73 to drop into a tie for 19th at 6 under. Local favorite Fred Couples also was 6 under, following an opening 72 with a 66.
John Daly rolled back the years with a 6-under 65 on a day of low scoring at the Made in Denmark tournament to sit three shots off the lead after the third round.
The two-time major winner birdied four of his first eight holes, and slipped up only on the 16th, where his putt up the hill rolled back to his feet.
Daly was in a tie for third in a group of four, including Gregory Havret (65), and Englishmen Chris Paisley (65) and Robert Rock (66) at Himmerland Golf & Spa Resort.
Another English golfer, David Horsey, led the field by two shots after the low round of the day, 64.