GOLF: Darren Clarke off the pace as Jordan Spieth looks to catch leader Matt Jones at Australian Open

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth

Defending champion Jordan Spieth will head into the final round of the Australian Open three shots behind leader Matt Jones after fighting back from a poor start for a four-under-par 67 on Saturday.

Spieth had bogeys on three of the first four holes before making the turn at one over, but three more birdies and an eagle on the 17th got him back into contention in Sydney.

Jones had three bogeys on the front nine as well with playing conditions tough at the Australian Golf Club, but six birdies kept him out in front as his round of 68 left him 10 under overall.

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke trails Jones by nine strokes after a one-under-par 67 left him tied for seventh.

Spieth had picked Jones as one of the danger men here before the tournament began, and Jones is enjoying proving him right.

“There’s one more day to go and I get to play with him,” he said in a press conference shown on the tournament website. “There is no better person to beat on the final day. To have him in the group, to go up against the number one in the world will be a lot of fun.”

Despite the added pressure, Jones said he would not deviate from the game plan which has got him this far.

“I’m playing to a strategy I have,” he said. “It’s very difficult with the wind out there - as you saw today on a few holes the ball came up surprisingly short which it wouldn’t normally do with those distances. Hopefully I haven’t peaked because I know I can hit it better than I did today, I can make a few more putts than I did today, so if I can do that I’ll have a good day tomorrow.”

Spieth’s strong finish left him closer than he had expected to be after that nightmare start, though he admitted he had been hoping for more after the eagle-birdie finish, only to see Jones pick up shots on the last two holes as well.

“When I finished my round I thought I’d be tied or one back, it looks now like it’s two or three shots,” he said. “But either way it’s a lot better than it was through the first four holes.

“It was a great fightback, one of the best fought rounds I’ve had that I can remember - to be in a position starting the day to be able to make a move but then completely fall out of it in the first four, just out of sync, not disinterested but lazy in my decision-making and my shots, and then to completely rebound.”

Australian Rhein Gibson is five shots back in third, with compatriots Aron Price and Lincoln Tighe one shot further back.

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke is nine shots off the pace after carding a 70, with England’s Lee Westwood five further back following a four-over-par round, but it appears set to be a two-man fight for the title.

“It’s not about a match-play mindset at all,” Jones said. “It’s about sticking to a game plan I have, managing the course and giving myself opportunities. I’m not sure what the wind will be tomorrow but if I go out and shoot two or three under I’ll be tough to beat so it’s in my hands.”