HOYLAKE, England (AP) — The fascination with Brian Harman at the British Open has little to do with his golf so far. It’s rare in Britain to hear tales of hunting turkey, learning to skin a deer at age 8 and packing wild game in the freezer for his family to eat.
One tabloid called him “Brian the Butcher.” Another headline screamed, “I Shoot to Thrill.”
Harman’s only concern is bagging the biggest trophy of his career, and he stayed on target Saturday by overcoming an early wobble with a remarkably steady hand.
His 8-foot par putt on the last hole at Royal Liverpool gave him a 2-under 69 and allowed him to keep his five-shot lead, leaving him 18 holes away from becoming a major champion.
“I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life,” Harman said. “It’s the whole reason I work as hard as I do and why I practice 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.”
He said he is most proud of making the FedEx Cup playoffs each of his 12 years on the PGA Tour, where he has two wins in 335 tournaments.
Sunday could change all that.
His lead remained five shots. Only the contenders changed on a wet day at the British Open.
Cameron Young, the runner-up at St. Andrews a year ago, showed superb touch from a pot bunker in front of the 18th green that set up a tap-in birdie for a 66 and put him in the final pairing with Harman on Sunday.
“I feel like he’s not someone to back down,” Young said.
Equally daunting is the sight of Jon Rahm, finally getting rewarded with a 63 that he capped off just as Harman was starting. It was the lowest round by two shots ever recorded in an Open at Royal Liverpool, hosting the oldest championship for the 13th time.
“That’s the best round I’ve played on a links course,” Rahm said.
When it was pointed out that his idol, Seve Ballesteros, never shot 63 in a major, Rahm quickly replied, “I’d rather win three times and never shoot 63.”
At least Rahm has a chance, which looked unlikely when he began the third round in the rain and wind and was 12 shots out of the lead.
Harman was at 12-under 201 and he has history on his side. Jean Van de Velde is the last player to lose a five-shot lead in the final round of a major. That was in Carnoustie in 1999 and featured one of the most dumbfounding triple bogeys ever on the 72nd hole of a major.
Harman, the gritty little lefty from Georgia, is not prone to such blunders. He has made the five-shot margin feel larger where he’s been hitting the golf ball — on the grass, not in the pot bunkers — and he rarely has been out of position.
Harman was paired with Tommy Fleetwood, the local star who grew up some 45 minutes up the Lancashire coast in Southport and had a throaty English gallery on his side. They were roaring when Harman bogeyed the opening hole and then went long of the fourth green for another bogey. His five-shot lead suddenly was down to two shots.
And then it wasn’t.
“I got off to a rough start, but I stayed the ship,” Harman said. “I hit a bunch of good ones coming down the stretch. … I was out there trying to hit every shot the best I could, and I did an OK job with that.”
Harman points to two key shots during his round. One was a 3-wood into the par-5 fifth green and a beautiful lag from 70 feet that set up an easy and much-needed birdie. The other was on No. 7, when he was in the rough, hit out 50 yards short of the flag, pitched to 6 feet and made the par putt.
“I had sort of righted the ship, and then I hit a loose one off 7 tee box and was able to make par to keep me from going backwards again,” he said.
The day was a big disappointment for so many others, starting with Rory McIlroy.
He opened with three birdies in five holes — he had birdie chances of 10 and 12 feet on the other two holes — and looked primed to post the kind of score Rahm did earlier. But he didn’t make birdie the rest of the way, and the finish was particularly painful. McIlroy missed birdie chances from 8, 12 and 10 feet.
He chose not to speak to the media for the second time this week, heading straight to the putting green. McIlroy shot 69 and was nine shots behind, his hopes all but over of ending his nine-year drought in the majors.
Fleetwood rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and then didn’t make a birdie the rest of the day. He had to settle for a 71, leaving him in the group at 5-under 208 — seven shots out of the lead — with Jason Day (69), Viktor Hovland (66), Sepp Straka (70) and Antoine Rozner (67).
Young was the biggest threat late. He missed two birdie putts from inside 7 feet, which didn’t bother him because he felt they were good putts and the greens can be deceptive. Nothing really bothered him except for being five shots behind, and there wasn’t much he could do about that.
“With the lead he has right now, it’s not necessarily going to be up to me tomorrow,” Young said. “It’s just really time for me to focus on myself and see where that gets me.”
So the hunter is now the hunted, and Harman is OK with that. He leads the field in putting. He is among the top 10 in driving accuracy, and those are two keys to playing this links. He also has the experience of a 54-hole lead in a major. That was the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, the lead was only one shot, and Harman recalls thinking too much about it.
Now he makes it sound simple.
“I had 36 holes. Now I have 18 holes,” he said.
Nothing short of a silver claret jug is on the line, one trophy that doesn’t go in the freezer.