SYDNEY (Reuters) - World number one and reigning champion Jordan Spieth hit a stunning eagle at the 17th and birdied the last to move into second place behind local Matt Jones after the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.
Overnight leader Jones watched Spieth’s eagle shot from the 16th tee and responded by birdying his final two holes to card a three-under-par 68, moving to 10-under for the tournament and finishing three strokes clear of his American rival.
Spieth’s 67 was the best round of the day and put him on seven-under, two shots better than Rhein Gibson (68) with two other Australians, Lincoln Tighe (70) and Aron Price (70), in a share of fourth on four-under.
It had looked like being a third day of frustration for Spieth in the crosswinds at the Australian Golf Club, especially after he dropped shots at three of his first four holes.
The head shakes and arm swipes turned into a beaming smile, however, when he whipped an eight iron 181 yards towards the flag on the par-four 17th and watched as the ball bounced twice before trickling into the hole.
The 22-year-old narrowly missed an eagle putt at the last after a superb approach shot but tapped in for birdie, giving himself every chance of back-to-back titles in Sunday’s final round.
“It was obviously quite a fortunate break on the 17th to go in,” Spieth said.
“And now I’m well in contention and likely in the last group, whether it’s three or four behind, it’s a lot better than I’d thought it would be after four holes.”
Spieth had already steadied his round with birdies at the fifth and sixth holes and another at the ninth after he had dropped a shot at the eighth.
He got the momentum going again by picking up two more shots at the 12th and 14th but said that saves for par at the 15th and 16th had been just as important in setting up his brilliant finish.
Jones, who started the day with a three-shot lead on seven-under, enjoyed a similarly uncertain start and turned around at level par for the day after three birdies and three bogeys.
A single birdie at the 14th interrupted a run of pars before he drained a putt off the long fringe on the edge of the 17th hole to trigger his own strong finish.
“To go up against the number one in the world is going to be a lot of fun,” said Jones, a member of the host club and winner of a single U.S. PGA title.
“I’m just playing to a strategy for this golf course. It’s very tough out there to get the wind right. Hopefully I haven’t peaked yet, I know I can hit it better than I did today and if I can get a few more putts we’ll have a good day tomorrow.”
Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy hit a 71 for sixth place on three-under, a shot better than a group of four which included two other major champions in Adam Scott (68) and Darren Clarke (70).
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty