Hunter becomes hunted… but can anyone stop Harman?

Dates: Thu 20-Sun 23 July Venue: Royal Liverpool, Hoylake
Coverage: Live radio and text commentary on BBC Sport website, with video clips each day. Daily highlights programme on BBC Two from 20:00 BST

For a man accustomed to hunting deer on the grasslands of Savannah, Georgia, Brian Harman continued the altogether more straightforward pursuit of shooting fish in a barrel at the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool.

The only question to ask now is can anybody catch him? He will go into Sunday with the biggest 54-hole lead in this championship since Rory McIlroy led by six here in 2014.

In the last four decades, in all majors, only eight players have led by more after three rounds.

In the aftermath of his third round, Harman had the look of a guy who’d just done rather well in his weekly medal rather than a bloke on the cusp of golfing immortality.

He was cool and calm. He joked about how similar he looks to the cricketer Ricky Ponting, he talked us through his love of hunting with a touch more detail than some may have wanted.

Hoylake cried out for McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood and got itself into a frenzy when Jon Rahm went from surly on Friday to stupendous on Saturday, but the leaderboard at day’s end still had Harman on top. The immovable object had seen off the irresistible force of a rampaging Rahm.

On Friday, after shooting 65, Harman balked when somebody suggested that The Harmanator might be a good nickname for him. He said he preferred the moniker of the Butcher of Hoylake. That was a nod to his hobby and to what he has done on the golf course this week.

On Saturday, there were a few early wobbles but he steadied and went again. The American had an eight-foot putt on the 18th to preserve par and give himself that five-shot cushion and, of course, he nailed it, just like he’s nailed everything this week.

The other-worldly statistic in all of this is not Harman’s lead – which is pretty fantastic – but the fact that he hasn’t missed a single putt from 10 feet or less all week. Not one.

  • Harman takes five-shot lead into final round
  • The Open – leaderboard
  • Final round tee times
  • The two holes where Open dreams might die

He eyes flags on greens like the elk in the wild that he spoke about after his third round. He talks about the patience and strategy of his past-time, how he first learned to skin a deer when he was eight years old.

At home, he calls his “real trophy room” the place where the spoils of hunting are kept, the fridges full of meat are kept in that place rather than the baubles from his golf life.

Quite where he’d put the Claret Jug is anybody’s guess, but it’s a question he might soon need an answer to.

Those putting stats are not just Tiger Woods-esque but peak Tiger. He’s had 33 putts from five foot or less and he’s holed every one of them. He’s had 11 from six foot to 10 foot and he’s holed all of those, too. He’s 100% from that range, hasn’t had a single three-putt and has holed from a combined distance of 329 feet.

“That’s kind of been my MO [modus operandi] throughout my career, just kind of a really good short game, good putter,” he said. “I expect to hole putts.”

He might well do, but it’s not normal.

Big names loiter, but can any strike?

McIlroy must look at those numbers and wince. Once again the Northern Irishman had chances on the greens and once again he failed to take most of them.

Some heavy hitters went after Harman – Rahm went on a spree on the way to his astounding 63 and Cameron Young, second at St Andrews last year, shot 66. Young is five behind, Rahm six.

If Harman continues to putt the lights out then no amount of brilliance from down the field is going to deny him. He’s in historic territory now.

Martin Kaymer was five ahead going into the final round of the 2014 US Open and won. Nick Faldo was five clear in the 1990 Open and won.

Only two players in 40 years have lost a lead this big going into the final round of a major – Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 Open and Greg Norman, who led the 1996 Masters by six before getting Faldoed on the Sunday.

Is there any hope for the rest? Rahm might need to fire another 63, or something close to it. We know Young has a mesmeric final round in him because he delivered one at St Andrews last year, going round in 65 to only lose by one to Cameron Smith.

Viktor Hovland is up there again. A year ago it was himself and McIlroy who went out in the final group with a four-shot lead, but for all his excellence, Hovland is not known as a stayer in these championships.

He could fire, but him and Young, Rahm, Fleetwood and Jason Day catching lightning in a bottle won’t be enough if Harman doesn’t fall like Devon Loch fell in the run-in in the Grand National 16 miles away in Aintree.

That’s what we’re looking at. That’s the scale of what needs to happen. Hoylake has treachery at many turns, not least the closing 17th and 18th holes, but Harman is three-under par on those. Where many others have blasted out of bounds and been trapped in bunkers, he has sailed serenely along.

Another 18 holes of that and he’ll go down in history, maybe not as the Open champion that Hoylake is desperate to see but the Open champion who wrote himself into the annals of the game.

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