HOYLAKE, England — American Brian Harman‘s lead didn’t get any bigger — but it didn’t get any smaller, either — after the third round of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
Harman, who is seeking his first major championship victory, leads by 5 strokes over Cameron Young and 6 over Masters champion Jon Rahm heading into the final 18 holes after he recovered from a couple of early mistakes to card a 2-under 69 on Saturday.
Harman, who is 12 under after 54 holes, will attempt to become only the third left-handed player to win a Claret Jug, joining Bob Charles (1963) and Phil Mickelson (2013).
“You’d be foolish not to envision [it], and I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life,” Harman said. “It’s the whole reason I work as hard as I do and why I practice as much as I do and why I sacrifice as much as I do. Tomorrow, if that’s going to come to fruition for me, it has to be all about the golf. It has to be execution and just staying in the moment.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Harman is the 10th golfer in history to hold at least a 5-shot lead after both the second and third rounds of a major championship. Each of the previous nine went on to win, most recently Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship.
Harman is only the third golfer to lead by 5 strokes or more in the Open Championship; James Braid (1908) and Henry Cotton (1934) both won after having such leads.
He will have many of the game’s best players chasing him Sunday. In addition to Young and Rahm, Norway’s Viktor Hovland, Australia’s Jason Day, Austria’s Sepp Straka and England’s Tommy Fleetwood are 5 under.
Rory McIlroy could only manage a 2-under 69 on Saturday and is 9 shots behind Harman.
“Harman is doing what he’s doing,” Straka said. “If he has a good day tomorrow, it’s going to be tough to catch him. You’ve just got to go out there and try and shoot a low score. You don’t have to do anything crazy because it’s just one guy up there. You just try to play your game and see what happens.”
While playing in his first Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland last year, Young made an eagle on the 72nd hole for a 7-under 65 in the final round. He finished 19 under, 1 stroke 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 kind of have to see how the first couple holes play out tomorrow and then you maybe start aiming at things that you might not otherwise,” Young said. “Tomorrow we’re going to plan on the same plan of attack as the last few days and kind of see where we are after a few holes.”
Rahm, who captured his second major at Augusta National Golf Club in April, got himself back into the mix by posting an 8-under 63 on Saturday. It was the lowest round in an Open Championship played at Royal Liverpool.
Rahm started the third round 12 shots behind Harman. If the Spaniard can somehow erase a 6-stroke deficit in the final 18 holes, he would become only the second player to win a major championship after being back 12 shots or more through 36 holes. George Duncan won The Open in 1920 after trailing by 13 after the second round.
“There’s a lot of golf to go,” Rahm said. “Honestly, I’m just going to enjoy the afternoon with my family, and that’s about it. There’s nothing to be done. Feel like I’ve done a lot of good work the past few weeks, and I’ve done a lot of good work this week, as well, and I’ve done what I’ve needed, which [has given] myself an opportunity.”
After Rahm posted his low number, Harman got off to a shaky start. Harman posted just one bogey in the first 36 holes but then had two in the first four holes Saturday. His approach shot on the par-4 first hole was long and right. He chipped past the hole and needed two putts to make 5. Fleetwood had a birdie on the second to move to 6 under with Rahm.
On the par-4 fourth, Harman pushed his tee shot into the left rough. He was again long on his approach, leaving his ball 48 feet from the hole. He chipped to 13 feet and missed the par putt. He fell to 8 over in the tournament and was just 2 strokes in front of Rahm and Fleetwood.
“I mean, it would have been really easy to let the wheels start spinning and really kind of let it get out of control, but I just kind of doubled down on my routine and knew I was hitting it well, even though I hadn’t hit any good shots yet,” Harman said. “Staying patient out there is paramount. Sometimes it’s a lot harder than others, but really proud of the way that I hung in there.”
Harman started turning things around on the par-5 fifth. After his second shot ran 70 feet past the hole, he nearly made an eagle and tapped in for birdie to move back to 9 under. He added another birdie on the par-3 ninth to make the turn at even par. He made putts of 5 feet and 20½ feet on Nos. 12 and 13 for bridies, and his lead was back to six.
Young made a birdie on the last hole to cut it to five.
Harman stuck to the same recipe for success, hitting fairways and relying on his short game and putter to get him out of trouble. He has hit 71% of fairways and converted 16 of 19 scrambling opportunities when he has missed the green. He leads the field in strokes gained: putting (9.27) and has needed only 1.44 putts per hole, fewest in the field.
“After his start, he did really, really well,” Fleetwood said. “Like, he hit a ton of great golf shots down the back nine. He was really very much in control at that point. Impressive to watch. I think there [were] two really good putts he holed. Aside from the birdie ones, he holed a par putt on the seventh and then a par putt on the last. Amazingly clutch putts to hole.”
Harman, an avid outdoorsman, has one more round to go in trying to bag the biggest trophy of his golf career.