Rampaged Jon. It looked like it might be Jason’s day. Finally, Brian Harman stood tall and proud on the Open Championship leaderboard. The hunter from Georgia, not content to kill the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, is trying to catch some of the biggest names in this sport. As the Hoylake venue was not protected by the weather, the star attractions came to swing the unexpected leader.
After a brief agitation, Harman regained his composure. The Open is his to lose, from standing five shots clear. At the final hole of round three, he provided others with a momentary hope by sitting across the green in three. Harman duly chips and puts it for five. Rounds of 67, 65 and 69 are 12 under par. He has yet to miss a putt from inside 10 feet.
Jon Rahm came flying through the field before Harman even took to the first tee. The Spaniard, who started the day at two over par, moved back to level with a 22 foot putt at the 9th. Birdies followed at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th. No player posted a score lower than 65 at the Royal Liverpool Open but Rahm needed just 63 strokes over the Wirral links. Seve Ballesteros, Rahm’s late iconic companion, produced many things in the Open but a 63 was not among them.
“I’d rather win it three times and not shoot a 63,” Rahm said with a laugh, in reference to Ballesteros’ wider record. “That’s the best round I’ve ever played on a links course. It feels really good at the moment but I know I still have a lot of work to do.”
This is because of Harman. A bogey at the opening hole for the diminutive left-hander sparked thoughts of an explosion on Saturday. Harman also failed to save par at the 4th. His lead, which was five at the end of round two, was now just a few shots from Rahm.
Harman caught his breath, as if someone in the gallery had thrown him a stiff brand. He returned to nine under with a birdie at the 5th and 10 under by converting from just four feet after a great tee shot at the 9th. By the 14th heat, Harman was 12 under par and five strokes clear again. He had the job. The competition within the competition is attractive but Harman, who completed the last of his two career PGA Tour victories in 2017, is leading the dance floor in style.
That Cameron Young, last year’s runner-up, posted a 66 to move to seven under, could be significant ahead of Rahm alone. It is Young, not the Masters champion, who will play alongside Harman on Open Sunday. Rahm would offer a level of subtle intimidation that Harman is unlikely to feel from Young. “With the direction he has right now, it’s not necessarily up to me tomorrow,” Young said. The analysis was perfectly balanced.
Tommy Fleetwood had a ringside scene as Harman slumped and plodded along. The Southport man’s second 71 in as many days means he goes on to seven. Fleetwood wants early round four fireworks.
Jason Day was a regular feature in these competitions before injury, loss of form and loss of form due to injury. The Australian, a man in the world against him, wants another turn at the top table of golf. Day chipped in from three under six respectively but dropped a shot carelessly at the 14th after letting a putt below the green roll back to his feet. He finished next to Fleetwood at five under. So, too, did Sepp Straka, Antoine Rozner and Viktor Hovland. 66 from Hovland stood out.
When McIlroy birdied three of his first five holes, the 2014 champion looked set for a charge at Harman. Instead, McIlroy suffered frustration – mostly with putter in hand – from there. Despite opportunities on each of the next four holes, he did not pick up another shot before the turn. McIlroy fell from four to three under at the 12th and remained stone cold on the greens thereafter.
This is Rory McIlroy – it’s unwise to rule him out – but his performance seemed to tell the story as he walked from the 18th, nine shy of Harman at that point. So, too, did McIlroy refuse to undertake media duties.
A dream come true for local lad Matthew Jordan courtesy of the 69-year-old. Jordan, a member of Royal Liverpool since childhood, will start round four at three under with dreams of the biggest pay day of his life. Jordan started Open Week as world number 329.
“This has been the best week of my life so far,” Jordan said. “It was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.”
A superb 65 from Alex Fitzpatrick means he has won more than 54 holes with his legendary brother, Matt. Alex Fitzpatrick’s four under plays Matt Fitzpatrick’s two under with one round to go. “There won’t be any competition or anything like that,” Alex said. “At the end of the day we are brothers as much as we are golfers. I root for him, he roots for me. We both support each other and we both want the best for each other.”
Best for Harman Sunday low key. Any other choice will add memories of Devon Lake.