Can anyone catch Brian Harman at The Open Championship? (2024)

HOYLAKE, England — Brian Harman showed his survival skills to overcome a bumpy start and the odd rain shower to solidify his position at the top of The Open Championship’s leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round.

But the game hunter is now being hunted by big-time players — and Jon Rahm and Cameron Young pose the biggest threat to Harman’s quest to have his name engraved on the Claret Jug. Harman is at 12-under, five shots ahead of Young and six of Rahm.

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“I am not focused on tomorrow,” Harman, who has not won a tournament since 2017, said after his third round. “I just want a good night’s sleep.

“You would be foolish not to envision yourself winning a major, and I have thought about winning majors all my life, but tomorrow, if that comes to fruition, it has to be all about the golf, execution and staying in the moment.”

Despite a moderate rain warning being in place, an expected downpour and blowy gales, for the most part, stayed away from Hoylake. This allowed those playing in the earlier groups to take advantage of good scoring conditions.

Rahm led the charge, posting a blemish-free 63 (-8) to register a new course record at Royal Liverpool, which was previously 65.

But the former world No 1 and Masters champion was not the only player to post a low number on Saturday, meaning, despite Harman’s considerable lead, the final major of the year is far from over.

For Rory McIlroy, though, the 10-year wait for another major will undoubtedly roll on into 2024 as he failed to build on a bright start to finish on 3-under, nine shots off the pace.

The Athletic breaks down who else is in the mix:

The most likely challenger

Even though he is one shot behind Young and six off Harman, Rahm is in a category of his own.

Royal Liverpool has produced legendary Open champions, a list that includes Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods and McIlroy. With Rahm’s experience and ceiling, it seems he is the best player left with a chance to chase down Harman, who is seeking his first major, and join those elite names.

The 28-year-old’s first two rounds were littered with mistakes, missed putts and, at times, his frustration boiling over. There were multiple clashes with the on-course media who he felt were either too close or in his way.

He started Saturday 2-over and in 48th position but after a steady front nine, he birdied six holes on his way back in.

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“That’s the best round I’ve played on a links golf course ever,” Rahm said. “My best round in a major? At 18 holes I could say yes, but the first 17 holes during the first round of this year’s Masters were equal or better. This is almost equivalent to that day in Augusta.

“Today was one of those days where I felt invincible.”

Can anyone catch Brian Harman at The Open Championship? (1)

Jon Rahm’s record-setting Saturday gives him a chance at his third major. (Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

Although Rahm is not going to be in the final pairing with Harman, the Spaniard will be in the penultimate group and can use his experience to put pressure on the American.

And if he is as explosive on Sunday as he was on Saturday, then it is not difficult to imagine him reeling Harman — who will need to make mistakes — in and winning his third major in as many years and second of 2023.

Chasing their first major

Young finished second to Cameron Smith at last year’s Open Championship and posted a 66 in his third round to play his way into the final pairing with Harman. Until now, Young has gone under the radar this week and has been able to use that to his advantage.

The bogey on the seventh hole was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect scorecard, with a birdie on the difficult 18th to close an excellent round.

“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. “With the lead he (Harman) has right now, it’s not necessarily going to be up to me 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.”

Viktor Hovland’s game has been trending upwards and winning this year’s Open will elevate him to a new level. The 25-year-old finished tied for seventh at the Masters and tied for second at the PGA Championship this year, while also making the top 15 at the U.S. Open in June.

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He won the Memorial Tournament and you would expect it to be a matter of time before he gets over the line in a major.

Hovland hasn’t missed the cut since the 2022 Scottish Open and recovered from a bogey on the second to post an impressive 5-under Saturday, in a five-way tie for fourth.

“I knew the conditions were out there and we could score, but I was very happy about not bogeying a single hole after that,” Hovland said. “My putter heated up, so it was nice to take advantage of some of the nice iron shots that I hit.”

Hovland hired Joe Mayo as his swing coach earlier this year and the results are paying off.

Meanwhile, the weight of expectation caught up with local hero Tommy Fleetwood who trudged off the 18th hole shaking his head at the shots he left out there.

Not only is Fleetwood a popular lad around these parts, he’s also well-liked in the clubhouse with parents of other players speaking glowingly about his affable ways.

The crowd braved the rain to cheer him on from start to finish, where he was again greeted with shouts of “Tommy lad” everywhere he walked, but a second-successive 71 has left him in the pack tied with Hovland.

While Max Homa noted that it was “crazy” playing alongside McIlroy and his huge following, Harman rose to the challenge of walking alongside Fleetwood and thousands of Scousers by maintaining a five-shot lead at the top.

The uphill spoilers

If McIlroy is deemed too far behind then it’s going to take something extraordinary for the others.

How costly will the dropped shot on No. 14 be for Jason Day (5-under)? His iron play wasn’t sharp enough to propel him further up the leaderboard and an error resulted in a three-putt, albeit from way off the green, and that halted his momentum.

The 2015 PGA Championship winner has the big-day experience but he’ll need to be flawless tomorrow and his game just isn’t in that place.

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Sepp Straka (5-under), however, looks the part. The bulky Austrian who won the John Deere Classic last week had the most birdies over the first two days and changed his strategy slightly by bombing long drives to set up shorter approach shots.

Playing alongside Min Woo Lee, who dropped out of contention as his U.S. Open-winning sister, Minjee, walked alongside offering encouragement, Straka went about his business quietly but with confidence.

There was a lot of love for the Indian Shubhankar Sharma who had a loyal following from his homeland cheering every shot. The 27-year-old has never finished in the top 50 of a major but apart from an eagle down five, his game lacked the spark needed to seriously challenge.

How can you ignore a man who shoots 6-under, though? Going into this week Alex Fitzpatrick, brother of U.S. Open winner, Matt, said his game was all coming together but never did he expect to be in the top 10 going into the final day.

It would take a major swing to close the gap on Harman, the man sitting pretty at the top, but if the rain pours down and causes havoc, there’s still time for another twist.

(Top photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Can anyone catch Brian Harman at The Open Championship? (2024)
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