American Brian Harman will take a commanding five-shot lead into the final round of the 151st Open Championship after holding the chasing pack firmly at bay at Royal Liverpool.
Masters champion Jon Rahm claimed he felt “invincible” as he surged through the field with a record-breaking 63, but that adjective could equally apply to Harman as he remained on course for a maiden major title at the age of 36.
As crowd favourites Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy frustratingly failed to fire, Harman recovered from a shaky start to compile a third round of 69 and 12-under-par total of 201.
Compatriot Cameron Young, the runner-up at St Andrews last year, is Harman’s nearest challenger following a 66, with Rahm – seeking the third leg of a career grand slam – another stroke behind.
Fleetwood was part of a five-way tie for fourth on five under which included Ryder Cup team-mate Viktor Hovland and former world number one Jason Day.
Rahm only made the cut with a shot to spare following rounds of 74 and 70, but took advantage of unexpectedly benign conditions to card eight birdies in a flawless 63, just one shot outside the lowest score in major championship history.
The world number three is the first player to shoot lower than 65 in an Open at Hoylake and had closed to within four shots of halfway leader Harman just two minutes before the left-hander got his round under way.
The gap was down to two when Harman dropped shots at the first and fourth, but he responded superbly with birdies on the fifth, ninth, 12th and 13th to maintain the five-shot advantage he held at halfway.
Only two players in history have lost a five-shot lead after 54 holes of the Open, Macdonald Smith in 1925 and Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999.
“You’d be foolish not to envision [lifting the Claret Jug] and I’ve thought about winning majors for my whole entire life,” Harman admitted.
“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. 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.”
Rahm compared his 63 to an opening round of 65 at Augusta National in April which set him on course for a second major victory following the 2021 US Open.
“That is the best round I have played on a links course ever,” said Rahm, who followed a birdie on the fifth with four in succession from the ninth before picking up further shots on the 15th, 16th and 18th in a back nine of 30.
“Starting on 11 everything became downwind and it got easier.
“It is my lowest round on a links course and it’s in the Open Championship right? It’s the lowest round shot on this course. It feels really good but there is a lot of work to do.”
Rahm had cut a frustrated figure over the first two days, complaining about too many people being inside the ropes following his group with McIlroy and Justin Rose.
“To be fair, I look frustrated very often,” Rahm joked.
“I was playing good golf and I knew what I was capable of. I was frustrated because it was basically mistakes that I made. That was it. I gave up the shots at major championships that are very costly, and that’s mainly it.
“I knew my swing and my game felt better than the scores I was shooting. Today was the complete opposite, obviously.
“Today was one of those days where I felt invincible. I’ve been very comfortable from the tee, so it’s easier to stay aggressive.”
McIlroy, who triumphed at Hoylake in 2014, had made the ideal start with birdies on the first, third and fifth, but covered the remaining 13 holes in one over par to card a disappointing 69.
The world number two, who had cancelled his formal pre-tournament press conference for the second major in succession on Tuesday, declined to speak to waiting reporters and headed straight to the practice putting green.
McIlroy ended the day as he started it, nine behind Harman, while Fleetwood fell two shots further back following a 71 containing one birdie, one bogey and 16 pars.
England’s Alex Fitzpatrick equalled the previous lowest Open score at Hoylake with a superb 65 to climb into the top 10 on four under, two shots better off than older brother and 2022 US Open champion Matt, who returned a 67.