20 year old Austin Connelly making a name for himself at The Open Championship
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Austin Connelly is making a name for himself at the Open Champiosnhip this week.
Just not to Jordan Spieth.
Connelly birdied his last two holes for a 66 on Saturday, leaving him six shots out of the lead and in the penultimate group with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka.
The 20-year-old Texan, who plays under the Canadian flag because of dual citizenship, earned one of 15 spots from the 36-hole qualifier on links courses in Britain two weeks ago. And he's clearly not spooked by the big stage at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth has known Connelly for several years, and they share the same swing coach in Cameron McCormick.
"He's got a great head. He's got a killer instinct," Spieth said. "He's a guy that's not afraid of the moment, as you can tell. And it will be a matter of time."
Connelly, who turned pro instead of taking a scholarship to Arkansas, has been toiling on the Challenge Tour in Europe. That's where Koepka was four years ago until he worked his way up to the main tour, the PGA Tour and then became a U.S. Open champion.
Connelly missed the cut last week in Italy before coming over to Royal Birkdale. He opened with rounds of 67-72, and then started Saturday with a birdie on No. 1 and holing out from the fairway for eagle on No. 2. He played the final 10 holes without a bogey.
As for Sunday?
"I think I'll feel the same way I felt today — confident," Connelly said. "I'm just going to stand up there and hit every shot to the best of my ability. ... I've believed when I turned professional that I was going to rise and be able to play with the best in the world. And it's just nice to have confirmed."
McCormick is staying the entire week in England — he usually leaves by the weekend — to accompany Connelly next week to the European Tour event in Germany. Even if he doesn't win, a top-4 finish would get Connelly into the Masters. Finishing in the top 15 gets back into the British Open next year.
Spieth wasn't ruling him out.
"He's got a day tomorrow where not only can he win a major championship, but it can do a lot for him in a lot of different areas. And I think he embraces that," Spieth said. "That would scare a lot of people off."
STILL SMILING: Henrik Stenson will likely leave Royal Birkdale on Sunday without the Claret Jug he has enjoyed caring for much of the past year.
He'll be minus some valuables and clothes, too, after a burglar broke into the rental house he had this week in Southport.
But he still had his sense of humor Saturday after shooting a 65 in the third round of the British Open.
"I'm glad to inform you I haven't lost anything in the last two days, so things are pretty good at the moment," Stenson said.
Stenson, who won last year in a brilliant duel with Phil Mickelson, was 3 under for the tournament, eight shots off the lead held by Jordan Spieth. He said he's had a great week defending his title, despite the theft of his belongings.
He also liked that British golf fans remember what he did last year.
"I truly felt the support and the fans were great," he said. "So it was a good day to play in front of them and they certainly didn't forget last year's championship."
POULTER'S REGRET: Ian Poulter was the only player in the current top 28 who was over par Saturday on an ideal day for low scoring at Royal Birkdale.
And he wasn't happy about it.
Poulter took four questions from reporters after his 1-over 71. All of the responses were brief, and two were interspersed with curse words.
Then he took to Twitter to apologize for his play.
"Amazing fans today. Simply the best set of fans in the world," he wrote. "I can only say Sorry. Disappointed with my performance today."
Poulter, who was second at Birkdale in 2008 and started Saturday three shots off the lead, bogeyed three straight holes from No. 11 to slip out of contention. He was tied for 11th, nine strokes out of the lead.
FAMILIAR FACE, DIFFERENT ATMOSPHERE: Chan Kim knew he had come a long way when he played the third round of the Open Championship with Ernie Els.
Kim, who grew up in Hawaii, recalls going out to the Sony Open more than a decade ago when the Big Easy won in back-to-back years. Kim qualified for his British Open, and he played a practice round with him on Monday.
"And then to be paired with him again, it was a really good experience," Kim said.
How about beating him?
Kim ran off two late birdies for a 67, leaving him tied for seventh place, eight shots out of the lead. Els shot a 70.
DIVOTS: This is the 13th time Spieth has had at least a share of the lead after a round at a major. That includes his 2015 victories in the Masters and U.S. Open. ... Hideki Matsuyama tied for 11th in the Masters and was runner-up in the U.S. Open. He goes into the final round of the Open Championship in a tie for fifth. ... The fifth hole was shortened to 310 yards to entice players to go for the green. Rickie Fowler hit a driver that missed going in by a few inches. Fowler, however, made nothing else but pars over 14 holes and managed only a 67.