With Brian Harman dominating, the British Open could be a lot more

HOYLAKE, England – Man, is this becoming a classic British Open result or what? Jon Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, hit a round of 63 on Saturday that propelled him up the leaderboard before the other contenders even got into their rounds. Cameron Young, the tough young American who finished second at St Andrews last year, birdieed last time out to 7 under par, a shot better than Rahm.

Viktor Hovland from Norway, Jason Day from Australia, Tommy Fleetwood from next door. Even the rare Austrian – Sepp Straka, a newly crowned PGA Tour winner – adds some flavor, albeit after Wiener Schnitzel. Also in the top 10 are the required breakaways: Antoine Rozner of France and Shubhankar Sharma of India.

What a ranking. All players are now just two shots apart before Sunday’s final round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. This finish could be…

Oh wait a minute. Shoot. Brian Harman – a 36-year-old left-hander and all-rounder on the PGA Tour – hit a consistent and strong 69 on Saturday, didn’t he? Damned. He’s 12 under. He maintained the five-shot lead he held after 36 holes.

He’s ruining what could become an epic British Open.

Admit what he does, but give him what he deserves and allow him to pursue his dreams.

“It would be foolish not to imagine that [a victory], and I’ve thought about winning majors my whole life,” Harman said Saturday night. “That’s why I work so hard, why I practice so much, why I sacrifice as much as I do. If that’s going to be a reality for me tomorrow, it just has to be about golf. It has to depend on the implementation and just stay in the moment.”

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Harman definitely deserves credit for his behavior in the third round. He went into the game with a five-stroke lead. He faltered with two bogeys on his first four holes, reducing his lead to two. He birdied the fifth time and didn’t trip the rest of the way. He has only made three bogeys in 54 holes and will absolutely determine how Sunday ends.

“Obviously, it looks like Brian will end up five or six ahead of me,” said Young, who hit an excellent 66 before Harman finished. “And in that case, I think you just have to wait and see how the first couple of holes play out tomorrow and then maybe start aiming for things that you might not otherwise get.”

Here we have an honest, lighthearted conversation about golf tournaments and golf rankings: Harman’s bogeys in first and fourth place, judging by the TV viewer or the gallery member here – or, frankly, the sportswriter – were exactly what was needed. A repeat of that would also make Sunday more interesting. I would not wish ill will on a decent and honest man, but…

Golf is a game of honor and chivalry, isn’t it? One where good marksmen are applauded and bad ones met with polite indifference? Bobby Jones – who was not only a wonderful golfer but also apparently an accomplished judge of propriety – once wrote in a guide to spectator behavior at his beloved Augusta National that “the most disturbing thing for those who love the game of golf is the applause or cheering at a player’s misses or misfortunes.”

Fine. Then steam them into your shoulder. But also be realistic.

British Open leaderboard

If you like watching early morning TV when there’s a major championship golf game in the United States, these early bogeys pair beautifully with a Saturday full English breakfast. (Hold the baked beans, please.) The list of people who preferred Harman to run off with that thing was mostly relegated to the Harman household in Sea Island, Georgia.

Golf, perhaps more than any other sport, has a caste system. There are ways for players to increase their hierarchical position, and these mostly have to do with winning professional events – on the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour (sorry, LIV Golf) – and competing in major championships. That’s not all, as there is also hubris and style elements in the personality and in the game. But that’s the most.

Harman just hasn’t won or fought enough to get into the top league of his sport. He has two PGA Tour wins, but the last one came in 2017. He competed at this year’s US Open and led after 54 holes, and losing to Brooks Koepka brought him no shame. But in his 29 major appearances to date, he’s had just one more top 10 finish — and missed 13 cuts.

He’s working hard on his game and he’s played great here. But he knows his stand, which is more due to what he not done than what he did.

“Obviously I think about it a lot,” Harman said. “I’m pretty far ahead. It was hard to be patient. I felt that after I won [Wells Fargo Championship] and had a really good chance at the 2017 US Open that I was probably going to throw a few more of those and that just didn’t happen.”

So many of the characters that will haunt him on Sunday made it possible. Young isn’t one of them – zero wins on the PGA Tour for the 26-year-old from Wake Forest. But excuse me if he doesn’t have an absolute Mood. He hits so loud and stands so strong that it seems he could destroy a golf course. He’s got that in his holster, too: a tee shot on the 72nd hole last year at St Andrews that reached the green and triggered an eagle that propelled him to second place.

And cream needs no introduction. His 63 on Saturday was perhaps less surprising than his indifferent play in the first two rounds.

“Today was one of those days where I felt invincible,” he said in Spanish.

That is the kind of swagger, the kind of athletic arrogance that contributes to great theater at major championships.

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Hovland, the 25-year-old Norwegian, played in the final group of this year’s PGA Championship and finished in the top seven in three of the last four majors. He’s one of those guys who fits into the “major is inevitable at some point” category. A win from him? It is allowed, even celebrated.

Harman? His playing partner in Saturday’s final group was Fleetwood, from nearby Southport, another contender who falls in the ‘worthy’ category. The support was not only great on the English side.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t hear a few things that weren’t very nice to me today,” Harman said.

“It’s unrepeatable,” he said.

Okay good. That’s a bridge too far. Brian Harman did everything right to prepare for what is by far his greatest professional success. All the best in his interest.

But in the interest of a fun Sunday at the 151st British Open? If we’re being honest, another opening bogey would do well, thanks.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/07/22/brian-harman-third-round-leader-british-open/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage With Brian Harman dominating, the British Open could be a lot more

Ian Walker

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