HOYLAKE, England — It was 3:29 p.m. when the loudest ovation of the day washed over Royal Liverpool’s first tee.
Open Championship 36-hole chief Brian Harman was lower than 60 seconds from the tee shot. Standing subsequent to him was Tommy Fleetwood, his enjoying companion and event fan favourite.
However the noise didn’t come from the primary tee, the place the 2 leaders of the 36 holes have been about to begin their rounds. It emanated simply yards to their left on the 18th inexperienced, the place a sleeping big had woken up roaring.
Jon Rahm had simply shot a biblical Saturday 63, the bottom spherical at Royal Liverpool in Open Championship historical past on the course. He had jumped eight strokes within the standings, forward of Harman by simply 4. Because the PGA Tour journeyman was about to play the largest and most vital spherical of his life, the shift in vitality on the primary tee was palpable.
Rahm was coming, and Harman higher hold some distance between them.
However then a humorous factor occurred. Harman did simply that, capturing a two-under 69 to take his 54-hole complete to 12 beneath. It wasn’t with out stress – notably, throughout a gap two-bogey streak that briefly diminished his result in two – however finally Harman was the harder and higher golfer.
It goes with out saying that he enters on Sunday the heavy favourite to depart Royal Liverpool the ‘champion golfer of the yr’. However three rounds do not make a champion. Harman must win the Claret Jug on Sunday, and he must survive these 9 golfers to do it.
1. Jon Rahm (six beneath, six behind)
Oh, you say Jon Rahm can win this Open? The reigning Masters champion, a number of world primary. 1, licensed baller and destroyer of worlds — This Jon Rahm?
After all, Rahm is the largest menace to Harman’s title race amongst golfers, even remotely close to the highest of the leaderboard. He’s arguably probably the most bodily gifted golfer on the planet, and his cap is as excessive as any participant since Tiger Woods. It was no shock to anybody that Rahm shot one other 63 on Sunday.
“The job at this time was to exit and provides myself the very best alternative,” he stated on Saturday. “Each time you get a birdie, consider yet one more. It is simply all you are able to do.
It is the form of killer mindset – and relentlessness – wanted to hunt a pacesetter on a Sunday at a serious. He’ll want these traits if the climate can be tame on Sunday afternoon.
If there’s one participant on the courtroom that is making Harman lose a wink tonight, it is Johnny, uh…Jonny?
2. Younger Cam (seven beneath, 5 behind)
Cam Younger does not have Rahm’s large championship pedigree. However he do have knocks on him, and it is a large OK. He is available in 5 behind Harman on Sunday, and as he identified on Saturday night time, he has an abundance of expertise with a unique kind of event stress.
“I struggled a bit like just a few months; I made a variety of cuts on the quantity,” he stated. “Should you return and look, I made a birdie or two within the final two or three holes, or on the US Open like three large pars in a row to make the lower on the quantity. I really feel like mentally with the ability to try this with the golf hanging across the lower line is admittedly one thing that I really feel like we have been capable of construct on as I began to play higher golf.
Tiger should not know that the distinction between a Claret Jug and a wage at John Deere is…substantial. However Younger’s high-flying ball-striking mark could possibly be completely suited to the gentle circumstances forecast for Sunday afternoon.
“I believe you simply must see how the primary holes go tomorrow,” he stated. “So that you would possibly begin aiming for issues that you just won’t have accomplished in any other case.”
He is not the title you’d anticipate to see on the prime of the standings, however he is one half of Sunday’s final crew, and he definitely has the expertise to tackle the second.
3. Victor Hovland (5 beneath, seven behind)
Seven again? Eek!
But when anybody within the under-five group is more likely to mount a severe push on Sunday, it is Hovland, who’ve completed within the prime 25 in each main event since final yr’s Open. Hovland was heartbroken at each the Masters and the PGA Championship, and had one other close to miss ending nineteenth on the US Open.
Now he finds himself with the possibility to chase the pins – and a weak mark Sunday open. His expertise as a ball-striker and competitor are undoubtedly there. If Harman flinches early, Viktor is perhaps the man to look at.
4. Tommy Fleetwood (5 beneath, seven behind)
It is no exaggeration to say that this Open means extra to Tommy Lad than most. Fleetwood is initially from Scouse. He’s liked by the Royal Liverpool devoted. Everybody across the event – together with Tommy himself – appears to need him to take the win.
It additionally helps that Fleetwood does not have one however each of the 63 finals in main championship historical past, on the 2018 and 2023 US Open. That model of Fleetwood hasn’t been on show thus far this week, however he’ll have to channel it on Sunday afternoon to place himself in rivalry.
5. Jason Day (5 beneath, seven behind)
Day has gingerly made his approach via Royal Liverpool all week, however now could be the time to seek out out if he has sufficient time to summon a classic efficiency.
Sneakily in rivalry with back-to-back rounds within the 60s, Day enters Sunday with good circumstances for his bomb and gauge fashion of play and a few of his finest type in years.
Her victory on the 2015 PGA might look like many lifetimes in the past, however she may maintain an vital place in a finals subject missing expertise in main championships.
6. Sepp Straka (5 beneath, seven behind)
The pitch for Straka is that he is a ball-striker in Rahm’s construct with a win two weeks in the past, and he is acquired one of many Tour’s most skilled caddies on his bag.
If not for his bogey on Saturday 18, he may need discovered himself even increased on this record.
7. Alex Fitzpatrick (4 beneath, eight behind)
The youthful brother of former US Open winner Matthew Fitzpatrick is having one hell of an Open for himself, along with his Saturday 65 pushing him down to 3 pennies for the week.
Positive, Alex does not have any main championship expertise from his older brother, but when there is a method to be taught golf via osmosis, you possibly can relaxation assured the boys at Fitzpatrick have it found out.
8. Matthew Jordan (three beneath, 9 behind)
Rumor has it that the native child shot a 62 at Royal Liverpool within the weeks main as much as the Open.
He’ll want one other 62 Sundays simply to say a prayer. However once more, if somebody will do it, it may nicely be Jordo.
9. Rory McIlroy (three beneath, 9 behind)
The stats inform Rory’s story of the week. First within the subject in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee; fifth in strokes gained: Strategy … 111th in strokes gained: Placing.
That is why McIlroy opted for further time on the apply inexperienced reasonably than a media interview session. That is why he fell within the good scoring situation conceivable and solely recorded a 69. That is why he is 9 pictures off the lead.
The one probability Rory has left is to hope that Brian Harman unintentionally booked his Airbnb on the positioning of an previous cemetery and summoned evil spirits.
It might’t occur. It won’t occur…
…however possibly the putter finally will get scorching.
The apparent alternative
Brian Harman (12 beneath, chief by 5)
We won’t come this far with out giving Harman our due. The person performed curfew golf at Royal Liverpool. He was sensible, targeted and managed to keep away from the massive mistake. Now he has a five-shot result in present and is heavy favourite to win the final main of 2023.
It could be a shock victory – one that may put him firmly within the crosshairs of a surprising bid for Workforce USA’s Ryder Cup – however after three days there is not any denying it could be deserved.
Get it: Brian Harman will very will doubtless maintain the Claret Jug on Sunday night time.