HOYLAKE, England — American Brian Harman’s lead didn’t increase — but it didn’t decrease either, after the third round of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
Harman, seeking his first major championship win, leads Cameron Young by 5 shots and 6 shots ahead of Masters Champion Jon Rahm heading into the final 18 holes after recovering from a couple of early errors to post a 2-69 score on Saturday.
Harman, under 12 after 54 holes, will aim to become only the third left-hander to win a Claret Jug, alongside Bob Charles (1963) and Phil Mickelson (2013).
“It would be foolish not to imagine that [it], and I’ve been thinking about winning majors my whole life,” Harman said. “That’s why I work so hard and why I practice as much as I do and why I sacrifice as much as I do.” If tomorrow is to be a reality for me, it just has to be about golf. It has to depend on the implementation and just stay in the moment.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harman is the 10th golfer in history to have at least a five-shot lead after the second and third rounds of a major championship. Each of the previous nine has won, most recently Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Harman is only the third golfer to lead the Open Championship by 5 strokes or more; James Braid (1908) and Henry Cotton (1934) both won after having such clues.
Many of the best players in the game will be watching him on Sunday. Alongside Young and Rahm, Norway’s Viktor Hovland, Australia’s Jason Day, Austria’s Sepp Straka and England’s Tommy Fleetwood are also under 5.
Rory McIlroy only managed 2 under 69 on Saturday and is 9 strokes behind Harman.
“Harman does what he does,” Straka said. “If he has a good day tomorrow it will be difficult to catch him. You just have to go out there and try to get a low score. You don’t have to do anything crazy because there is only one player up there. You just try to play your game and see what happens.”
At his first Open Championship last year at St Andrews, Scotland, Young scored an eagle on the 72nd hole for a 7-under 65 finish in the final round. He finished the game 19 under, 1 shot behind winner Cameron Smith.
Young, the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, will be looking for similar magic on Sunday.
“I think you just have to see how the first few holes play out tomorrow and then maybe you’ll start aiming for things that you might not otherwise get,” Young said. “Tomorrow we will plan the same attack plan as in the last few days and see where we are after a few holes.”
Rahm, who won his second major tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in April, came back into play on Saturday with a score of 8-under 63. It was the lowest round in an Open Championship played at the Royal Liverpool.
Rahm started the third round 12 strokes behind Harman. If the Spaniard somehow closes his 6-shot deficit over the last 18 holes, he would be only the second player to win a major championship after going 12 or more shots behind over 36 holes. George Duncan won the Open in 1920 after being 13 points behind after the second round.
“There’s still a lot of golf to be played,” said Rahm. “Honestly I’m just going to enjoy the afternoon with my family and that’s about it. There is nothing to do. I feel like I’ve done a lot of good work over the past few weeks and I’ve done a lot of good work this week too and I’ve done what I needed to do, viz. [has given] give myself a chance.”
After Rahm announced his low number, Harman got off to a shaky start. Harman only had one bogey on the first 36 holes, but scored two on the first four holes on Saturday. His approach shot on the first par 4 was long and right. He threw a chip wide of the hole and needed two putts to make the 5th putt. Fleetwood birdied the second time to get 6 under with Rahm.
On the fourth par 4, Harman shot his shot into the left rough. He was wide in the approach again and dropped his ball 48 feet from the hole. He threw a chip at 13 feet and missed the par putt. He dropped to 8 overs in the tournament and was just 2 shots ahead of Rahm and Fleetwood.
“I mean, it would have been really easy to just spin the wheels and let it really get out of hand, but I just doubled down on my routine and knew I was hitting it well even if I hadn’t hit any good shots yet,” Harman said. “Staying patient out there is the most important thing. Sometimes it’s a lot harder than others, but I’m really proud of how I persevered.”
On the par-five fifth, Harman started to turn things around. After his second shot went 70 feet over the hole, he almost made an eagle and tapped the birdie to get back to 9 under. He added another birdie on the par 3 of the ninth to make the turn on even par. He made putts from 5 feet and 20½ feet on numbers 12 and 13 for Bridies and his lead was again six.
Young birdied the final hole, reducing the score to five.
Harman stuck to the same recipe for success, hitting fairways and relying on his short game and putter to get out of trouble. He hit 71% of the fairways and converted 16 of 19 scrambling opportunities while missing the green. He leads the field in putting strokes won (9.27) and only required 1.44 putts per hole, the fewest in the field.
“He did really, really well after he started,” said Fleetwood. “He hit a lot of great golf shots on the back nine, for example. At that point he was really in control. Impressive to look at. I think there.” [were] He pocketed two really good putts. Aside from the birdies, he threw a par putt on the seventh and a par putt on the last. Amazingly good clutch putts to the hole.”
Harman, an avid outdoorsman, has one round left to claim the biggest trophy of his golfing career.