SILVIS, IL. – Another John Deere Classic hasn’t been won yet and the British Open – the third leg of golf’s Grand Slam — is next week’s target. Still, Jordan Spieth’s game is good enough right now to win them both, no doubt about it.
That was underscored on Saturday when the 21-year old Masters and U.S. Open champion climbed to the top of the leaderboard in the JDC at TPC Deere Run.
Spieth arrived at the site of his first PGA Tour win of 2013 off a two-week break, one of which included not touching a club. Rustiness showed in Thursday’s first round, when he shot par 71 and was mired in a tie for 101st place.
The rust disappeared on Friday when Spieth shot 64 and moved into a tie for 16th, and Saturday the sharpness was even better. Spieth posted a 10-under-par 61, giving him a two-stroke lead to take into Sunday’s final round.
Could his game be peaking at the perfect time? It certainly seems like it. At least Spieth could do no wrong on his 2-3-3 finish on Saturday. The deuce at the par-3 16th was followed by an errant tee shot at the par-5 17th. Spieth found himself deep in the left woods.
“There wasn’t a big window,’’ he said, “and I needed to hit it 170 to carry the bunkers.’’
He did that with a 5-iron, a club chosen for the loft it could produce rather than the length. He was still left with a 105-yard left-to-right third shot to the green. Club choice was tricky, but Spieth pulled out a sand wedge and miss-hit it. The “miss-hit,’’ though, dropped into the hole for an eagle.
“Maybe that was the wrong club, to be honest,’’ said Spieth. “I had a lot of good breaks coming in when I didn’t hit good shots off the tee.’’
The birdie on the finishing hole resulted in the lowest round of Spieth’s meteoric career.
As good as Spieth has been the last two days, this JDC is far from his. Danny Lee, winner last week at the Greenbrier Classic, shot 62 in the third round after playing the first two in Spieth’s threesome. Lee called Spieth’s blazing finish “a little ridiculous’’ but admitted “he’s winning everything right now. I’ll just go out and play and see what happens. All I know is a lot of people will be watching us, and I can’t wait to see what happens.’’
Lee has his own shot at history before he, Spieth and a batch of others board the jet from the Quad Cities Airport to Scotland on Sunday night for the British Open at St. Andrews. If Lee wins on Sunday he’ll be the first player since David Duval in 1997 to claim his second PGA Tour win a week after winning his first.
The focus in the final 18, however, will be on Spieth who was widely second-guessed for playing the JDC instead of going to Europe a week early and tuning up at the Scottish Open with a shot at the Grand Slam on the line.
Spieth has no regrets about coming here. He replaced the hybrid in his bag with a driving iron as part of his British preparation, and was pleased with the results. Plus, the weather on Saturday was helpful, too. There were two weather delays, but they didn’t keep Spieth off the putting green.
“I was embracing practice in the rain because we’re sure to see that next week,’’ he said.
For now, next week can wait. Spieth has more than just the red hot Lee to beat on Sunday. Lee will be Spieth’s playing partner for the third time this week but Justin Thomas, leader after the first two rounds, and Johnson Wagner are shot behind Lee and hometown favorite Zach Johnson, the 2012 champion, is another swing back.
`There’s a lot of young players coming out who aren’t scared to win,’’ said Spieth. “It’d be great to win again at a place that’s special to me.’’