Brian Harman played some excellent golf in Royal Liverpool as he recovered from two early bogeys to take a five shot lead into the final round of the 151st Open Championship courtesy of a Saturday 69 to lie on twelve-under-par.
It will be the second time the left-handed American has held a 54-hole lead in a major but he seems far more likely to convert this five shot advantage than he did his one shot cushion at the 2017 US Open in Erin Hills.
Harman led by five at the halfway stage in Hoylake but two bogeys on 1 and 4 coupled with Jon Rahm’s course record 63 saw him suddenly come crawling back to the field and it seemed like a hectic weekend was upon us.
However, the one time PGA Tour winner had other ideas as he birdied the fifth and ninth to turn in level-par 36 and take a four-shot lead into the back nine.
From there he was flawless and back-to-back birdies on 12 and 13 saw him move six clear at one stage as he threatened history as the first man in 50 years to lead the Open by more than six shots after 54 holes.
A late Cameron Young birdie put paid to that record but Harman closed with solid pars on 16 and 17 before getting up and down from short left of 18 for a battling par which could be so crucial if the harsh Sunday forecast comes to fruition.
“Yeah, start was tough. Hit a couple loose shots. It was nice to turn around and have a nice back nine,” said Harman.
“I wasn’t really worried about trying to maintain a lead. I was just trying to make a par. Not fired up, but very pleased to make a par. I got sort of a funky break off the tee. I didn’t hit a great shot, but it went into a really bad lie where I couldn’t chase it down the fairway. Just kind of made a mess of it. So to salvage a 5 I was just happy with a 5.”
Harman pushed his drive left and hacked sideways leaving him 267 to the green for his third. Another push left him pitching from underneath the grandstand and over the two front bunkers but he pitched to 8 feet and rolled in the putt for a five.
“You’d be foolish not to envision, and I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life. It’s the whole reason I work as hard as I do and why I practise 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.”
Harman will be in the final group with Young who has returned to form. Last year’s runner-up birdied two of his last four holes to steal into second place on seven-under with a 66.
Behind Young is course record setting Rahm (-6) while Austrian Ryder Cup hopeful Sepp Straka bogeyed the last to fall back into a tie for fourth on five-under with Viktor Hovland, Antoine Rozner, Tommy Fleetwood and Jason Day.
Despite being three-under after five holes of his third round, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy’s hopes of a second Claret Jug and first major in nine years suffered a potentially fatal blow as some familiar putting woes left him nine shots adrift after a two-under 69.
Pádraig Harrington birdied two of his last four holes to shoot a two-over 73 and share 69th place on five-over.