Entering Friday’s second round at The Open, Tommy Fleetwood had a share of the lead at 5 under par.
But after shooting an even-par 71 on Friday evening, the Englishman faces a five-shot deficit as American Brian Harman is 10 under for the championship.
Harman finished Friday morning with a 6-under 65, his best round of The Open so far.
However, Fleetwood will join Harman in the final pair on Saturday, thanks to his clutch save on the par-5 18th hole.
Had he not made it five, Austria’s Sepp Straka would have been in the final group since he finished ahead of Fleetwood earlier in the day.
Instead, the English hometown crowd will be behind Fleetwood, the only man within five strokes of the lead.
“They’re really, really great,” Fleetwood said after his round on Friday. “I loved every minute of playing in front of them, and I can’t thank everyone enough; I couldn’t have asked for more from anyone with all the support they are giving me here.”
Since Fleetwood is from nearby Southport, about 30 miles north of Royal Liverpool, the final pair on Saturday could resemble an atmosphere seen only at the Ryder Cup: America against Europe, Brian Harman against Tommy Fleetwood.
To add to that mantra, Hartman has an overwhelming dominance, meaning Fleetwood will enter Saturday’s round as the underdog, a feeling that Team Europe often relishes in the Ryder Cup.
In addition, Saturday’s weather calls for wind and rain, which also favors European players.
Fleetwood also had to contend with the wind on Friday evening, with Royal Liverpool getting tougher as the day progressed.
“It turned into a grind at the end,” Fleetwood said of his round. “I really think, for most of the round, I played really well.”
“I went in there, and the overall par level wasn’t really bad today. It feels good,” Fleetwood added.
Out of the 156-person field at The Open, only 47 players managed even one round of par or better on Friday.
Indeed, Royal Liverpool played hard, making Harman’s bogey-free round look that much better. He played superbly, making four birdies on the front nine while making plenty of par saves down the stretch.
To cap it off, Harman eagled the 18th to make it 10 years.
“Brian [Harman] it was a great two days,” Fleetwood said of the 36-hole leader. “I was watching his round [Friday] morning, and he was playing great. That has actually been done. But, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the conditions, and you have to keep playing until it’s over and see where you end up.”
Mother nature is always suspect, especially in the North West of England. But no one will question who the patrons will support on Saturday evening, as the Fleetwood-Harman pairing could serve as a Ryder Cup preview.
Regardless, it should be a fun Saturday at Hoylake.
Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough as well.