Brian Harman holds firm at the Open as Young and Rahm lead chasing pack | The Open

Jon rampaged. It looked as if this could be Jason’s day. By the end of it, Brian Harman stood firm and proud atop the Open Championship leaderboard. The hunter from Georgia, not content with slaying Royal Liverpool Golf Club, wants to take out some of the biggest names in the sport. With the Hoylake venue rendered defenceless by weather conditions, star attractions arrived to swing at the surprise leader.

Harman, after a brief wobble, regained his composure. The Open is his to lose, from a position of five shots clear. At the final hole of the third round, he offered momentary hope to others by sitting wide of the green in three. Harman duly chipped and putted for a par five. Rounds of 67, 65 and 69 equal 12 under par. He is yet to miss a putt from inside 10ft.

Jon Rahm had come flying through the field before Harman had even taken to the 1st tee. The Spaniard, who started the day at two over par, moved back to level with a 22ft putt at the 9th. Birdies followed at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th and 18th. No player had signed for a score lower than 65 at a Royal Liverpool Open yet Rahm required only 63 strokes over the Wirral links. Rahm’s late, revered compatriot Seve Ballesteros produced a lot of things in an Open but a 63 was never among them.

“I’d rather win it three times and never shoot 63,” said Rahm with a smile, referencing Ballesteros’s wider record. “That is the best round I have ever played on a links course. It feels really good right now but I know I still have a lot of work to do.”

This is because of Harman. A bogey at the opening hole for the diminutive left-hander triggered thoughts of a Saturday implosion. Harman also failed to save par at the 4th. His lead, which had been five at end of round two, was now just a couple of shots from Rahm.

Spain’s Jon Rahm plays his tee shot on the 18th hole
Spain’s Jon Rahm surged into contention with a third-round 63. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Harman caught his breath, as if somebody in the gallery had tossed him a stiff brandy. He returned to nine under with a birdie at the 5th and 10 under by converting from only four feet after a superb tee shot at the 9th. By the 14th tee, Harman was 12 under par and five strokes clear once again. He held the position. The tournament within the tournament is engaging but Harman, who completed the last of his two career PGA Tour victories in 2017, is leading the field a merry dance.

That Cameron Young, last year’s runner-up, signed for a 66 to move to seven under, one ahead of Rahm, may prove significant. It is Young, not the Masters champion, who will play alongside Harman on Open Sunday. Rahm would offer a level of subtle intimidation that Harman is unlikely to feel from Young.

“With the lead he has right now, it’s not necessarily going to be up to me tomorrow,” Young said. The analysis was perfectly fair.

Tommy Fleetwood had a ringside view as Harman plotted and plodded along. A second 71 from the Southport man in two days means he trails by seven. Fleetwood needs early round-four fireworks.

Jason Day was a regular feature in these tournaments before suffering injury, loss of form and loss of form because of injury. The Australian, a world No 1 in his pomp, fancies another spell at golf’s top table. He leapt from three under to six under by the turn but carelessly dropped a shot at the 14th after allowing a putt from below the green to roll back to his feet. He finished beside Fleetwood at five under. So, too, did Sepp Straka, Antoine Rozner and Viktor Hovland. A 66 from Hovland stood out.

When Rory McIlroy made birdies at three of his first five holes, the 2014 champion looked set for a charge at Harman. Instead, McIlroy endured frustration – primarily with putter in hand – from there. Despite opportunities on each of the next four holes, he did not pick up another shot before the turn. McIlroy dropped from four to three under at the 12th and remained stone-cold on the greens.

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A huge gallery watches Rory McIlroy tee off at Royal Liverpool
Huge galleries watched Rory McIlroy but it was another frustrating day for the Northern Irishman. Photograph: Greig Cowie/Shutterstock

This is Rory McIlroy – it is unwise ever to rule him out – but his expression as he walked from the 18th, at that point nine shy of Harman, seemed to tell a story. So, too, did the fact that he declined to undertake media duties.

A dream major for the local lad Matthew Jordan continued courtesy of a 69. Jordan, a Royal Liverpool member since childhood, will start his fourth round at three under and with dreams of the biggest payday of his career. Jordan started Open week as the world’s No 329.

“This has been the best week of my life,” Jordan said. “It has been an absolutely amazing experience and one that I will never forget.”

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A superb 65 from Alex Fitzpatrick means he has outshone and outscored his illustrious brother, Matt, over 54 holes. Alex’s four under plays Matt’s two under with one round to go. “There will be no rivalry or anything like that,” said Alex. “We are brothers at the end of the day as much as we’re golfers. I root for him, he roots for me. We’re both supporting each other and we both want what is best for each other.”

Best for Harman is a low-key Sunday. Any alternative will conjure memories of Devon Loch.