It looks a done deal, even if Brian Harman wouldn’t admit it. But there is any hope for the chasers? Steve Carroll dives under the bonnet
Unless your name is Tiger Woods, blow-out Opens don’t tend to live too fondly in the memory.
Take Louis Oosthuizen’s seven-shot demolition at St Andrews in 2010. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue in the pantheon of great tournaments.
We like duels. We want shootouts. Stenson v Mickelson, Watson v Nicklaus. Not a coronation with a day still to play.
It’s to Brian Harman’s immense credit that he has killed this Open so far as a spectacle.
The brief flurry of hope he gave a home crowd when bogeying two of the first four holes of his third round at Hoylake was brutally extinguished with an efficient display of back nine hitting.
Even a brief scare at 18, when his second shot sailed closer than he would have liked to the out of bounds posts, were settled with what seemed to observers to be a nerveless par putt.
His lead is five. Only twice in the history of this competition has anyone lost such a lead, according to stats guru Justin Ray. Macdonald Smith in 1925 and Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999.
There is no Barry Burn at Hoylake. There is the prospect of bad weather on Sunday. That was there today too, but it failed to materialise and the course laid down all its defences.
R&A numbers revealed the stroke average for the third round was 70.43 – more than three shots lower than the second-round average of 73.45. The field was a total of 43-under-par.
Jon Rahm shot 63, Viktor Hovland and Cameron Young 66. The problem is that all three are going to have to do that again and then STILL hope Harman slips up.
Of course the champion elect’s not resting on his laurels – even if the prospect of “10 hours’ worth” of sleep looks pretty thin.
“The thoughts come and go, so we’ll do our best and sleep as much as we can,” he said, before adding: “You’d be foolish not to envision [winning the Claret Jug], and I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life.
“It’s the whole reason I work as hard as I do and why I practise 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.”
That doesn’t feel like he’s leaving too many crumbs. Here’s the reality of it. He leads the field in par 3 scoring (a much under-rated stat given how difficult it is to score against par on the short holes). He’s fifth in par 4 scoring and fifth in par 5s.
In strokes gained, the only stat he’s looking remotely average in is strokes gained approach (43rd). He’s first in total strokes gained, first in strokes gained putting, eighth off the tee, and 21st around the green.
He’s sixth in driving accuracy and, crucially, given how much talk there has been of their brutal nature, he has found just one bunker in the entire tournament.
So what can the chasers do? Can anyone stop Brian Harman? How can you putt pressure on a guy who has looked almost indestructible for three days? Just hope he has a sleepless night?
“I think you just kind of have to see how the first couple holes play out tomorrow and then you maybe start aiming at things that you might not otherwise,” said Cameron Young, who did shoot 65 on the last day at St Andrews 12 months ago as he narrowly failed to catch Cameron Smith.
“Tomorrow we’re going to plan on the same plan of attack as the last few days and kind of see where we are after a few holes.”
“It really is down to Brian,” added Tommy Fleetwood, who faced Harman head-to-head in the third round’s last group and came away conquered.
“Take him out of it, [you’re] two away from the next best contender, so you go out, play well, and shoot the best score of the day, then you know there’s one person that’s left. That’s the way you’ve just got to look at it.”
If that feels like having a bet but doing it on the ‘without the winner’ market, then that’s the prevailing view of most on anyone other than ‘Brian Harman’ being engraved into the Claret Jug.
He’s going to have to do things tomorrow that just haven’t happened for 54 holes. Hit in bunkers, stop scrambling, and miss putts.
“Harman is doing what he’s doing,” said Sepp Straka, who sits in tied fourth. “If he has a good day tomorrow, it’s going to be tough to catch him.
“You’ve just got to go out there and try and shoot a low score. You don’t have to do anything crazy because it’s just one guy up there. You just try to play your game and see what happens.”
If that sounds like a reach, it probably sums up the thoughts of the rest of the field. The Life of Brian is here, and it doesn’t feel like anyone can get in the way.
What do you think? Can anyone stop Brian Harman? And who’s your choice? Let me know with a tweet.
Do the Ryder Cup captains actually matter?