Think about the chance you would have given Austin Connelly as a 20-year-old to be tied for third on Saturday evening at his first major championship, the oldest of them all, the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, an event he earned a ticket to in a playoff at a qualifying event.
Is it the same chance you’re giving the dual Canadian-American citizen, now at five under after three rounds, to close the six-shot deficit that exists between him and leader Jordan Spieth and actually win the Claret Jug?
It would be a tall order, one that would require a complete collapse by Spieth, whose third-round 65 Saturday made that an unlikely scenario, but surely by now, Connelly’s performance thus far has you improving the odds against him doing something special on Sunday.
“I 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 that confirmed,” said Connelly after his third round, four-under 66 on Saturday that began with birdie-eagle-bogey on his first three holes.
The eagle on two saw Connelly hole a nine-iron from 130 yards out.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 22, 2017
“The shot on No. 2 today was pretty incredible. The crowd went crazy. Obviously, I couldn’t see it go in because of the sun, so it was pretty neat,” said Connelly.
“It was nice to get off to the start I got off to. It’s not very often you’re three under through two on two par fours, or ever really, so it was just incredible the rush you get from making a shot like that so early in the round with the crowd as big as it was,” he said.
“I just tried to stay composed after that, keep moving forward. A little hiccup on the next hole, which wasn’t ideal, but overall, I’m very pleased with the round. It’s nice to stay patient throughout the day and get rewarded with a couple of birdies on the last two (holes),” added Connelly, who also went bogey-birdie on eight and nine.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 22, 2017
Not only is Connelly chasing a two-time major champion in his pal Jordan Spieth, but veteran Matt Kuchar, hungry for his first major title, is also in the way, three shots up on Connelly, who is tied with this year’s U.S. Open champion, Brooks Koepka.
Just one shot behind Connelly is Branden Grace, whose 62 on Saturday made history as the lowest score in major championship history, and Hideki Matsuyama.
Those are just a few of the names he’s hanging with at the top of the leaderboard, but as impressive as his scores are so far is his composure.
“I never felt nerves from the first tee on, which is surprising to me. I was very calm. I think it has to do with I’m very confident with how I’m hitting it and so I’m not standing on any tee nervous about where it might go. I feel like I’m hitting it straight and solid and it’s just translating into being very calm,” he said.
“I knew that I liked the golf course a lot. I felt very comfortable and I liked the way my game was trending and, of course, I’m very pleased with where it’s led me thus far, but I wouldn’t say it’s surprised me the way I’ve played,” said Connelly.
“I would say more than anything it’s surprised me that the numbers haven’t been a little bit lower. I’ve played very well and I think I might just feel that way because the golf course fits me so well and it fits my eye,” he added.
Claret Jug aside, that steady hand could lead to a plum for Conelly, with the top four finishers, including ties, earning a spot in next year’s Masters. Also, Golf Canada has extended an invitation to play in the upcoming RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey.
“I would love to play. It’s going to depend on how (Sunday) goes. I want to make sure I have my European Tour card secured for next year first, but obviously, I’d love to go back and play in Toronto. It’s really one of my favourite tournaments I’ve played so far,” said Connelly.
However, getting ahead of himself is how he got into this position and why change anything after the first three rounds on Sunday?
“I think I’ll feel the same way I felt today, confident. I’m just going to stand up there and hit every shot to the best of my ability,” he said.
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