Small in size, big on heart

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Brian Harman is one round away from snatching the Claret Jug. M. James Ward reviews the performance he has shown and what's in store with 18 holes to go.
Posted on
July 23, 2023
by
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Hoylake, England. If you want to know Brian Harman just realize what the mascot of his university golf team is -- a Georgia bulldog.

When Harman showed vulnerability in the first three holes of Saturday's third round with two bogies happening quickly it was assumed he would take on water faster than the Titanic. That did not happen.

The Bulldog in him neither backed off nor folded like a cheap suit of clothes.

Having to face a partisan crowd rightfully pulling for countryman Tommy Fleetwood, Harman showed the kind of resolve that ultimately wins in the biggest of situations.

After three rounds of the 151st Open Championship Harman has a five-stroke margin over Cameron Young, the man who finished second at last year's Open, heading into Sunday's final round at Royal Liverpool.

Harman's only other serious performance in a major championship came in 2017 at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills when he was the third-round leader by one stroke. Harman would eventually lose that event to a hard charging Brooks Koepka.

(Stuart Franklin/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

To his credit Harman stated the enormity of that moment overwhelmed him causing his active mind to wander and his focus to be lost. He candidly stated he failed to get the appropriate amount of sleep and eating smartly before that fateful day in Wisconsin.

Will the final round at Hoylake deliver Harman to the winner's circle and produce a victory in the game's oldest major event?

That remains to be seen. But in this age of power golf, it is nothing short of amazing a golfer just 5'7" in height and weighing at most 150-pounds is the man everyone else is chasing.

Harman has only won twice since turning professional in 2009 -- the last coming in 2017 at the Wells Fargo Championship. Since that year, the lefthander has the
most top ten finishers without a win.

The 36-year-old is determined to end that drought at Royal Liverpool.

There are those who have applied the tagline "journeyman pro" but Harman has been a steady performer with over $29 million in career winnings and was nearly selected for last year's USA Presidents Cup Team. A win Sunday could very well earn him a slot on the American Ryder Cup team this fall in Rome.

"I've spent I don't know how many years chasing it. It always seems it's right there at the end and I end up in between 13th and 18th on the list and I'm hoping for a (captain's) pick. It would mean the world to me to play on the Ryder Cup team. I think I would do very well. But I'm not thinking about that at all."

What can one expect from Harman with one round to go?

With a five-stroke cushion consider the following --

Harman's second on the PGA Tour in bogey avoidance, dropping shots on just 12.9 of holes, and he enjoyed a 36-hole bogey-free stretch earlier this year. On the putting side his talents are top tier. He is first on tour from inside six feet at 92%. Backing that up he's fourth on tour in scrambling and 10th in sand saves.

The flatstick for Harman has been his differentiator and whether that can be maintained with one round to go will be the key question mark. His strokes gained / putting is off the charts at +9.27, first among all players in the field. Within ten feet his acumen on the greens has been superlative.

To get a sense of Harman's coolness under fire just recall how he played the par-5 18th to conclude Saturday's play. Harman pushed his tee shot into the deep fescue grass. He played a very conservative pitch out and left himself in the range of 260+ yards to the green. His fairway metal was pushed to the left of the green but he calmly chipped to seven feet away and dropped the putt to leave the hole unscathed.

Harman has shown an adeptness to links golf with a T6 finish at last year's Open at St. Andrews and now he's in the command position with a round to go. His fondness for link golf is straightforward.

"I like when courses don't force you to carry (the ball). There are several different options to play golf holes. If you're into the wind, you can hit way more club and send it up in the air to try to stop it, or you can try to finesse something lower, so I enjoy the variety of shots you have to hit."

(Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Final rounds at major championship are unlike any other golf event. The pressure ratchets up considerably and the wherewithal to think smartly about shots is even more magnified. Harman can look back at what happened in 2017 and attempt to learn from it.

Royal Liverpool has been a stern test and the inclusion of punishing bunkers and the devilish internal out-of-bounds can quickly wreck the scorecard of any player. Those chasing Harman may not say it publicly but can only hope there's a slight hiccup coming his way.

While small in physical height he will need to punch above his weight against a range of challengers with Young five shots back and the talented Jon Rahm looking to chase him down after scoring a course record 63 Saturday.

Just keep in mind bulldogs can be tough, once they sink their teeth in it's difficult to tear anything away from them. Harman looks to follow a game plan that has worked to near perfection, thus far.

This Georgia Bulldog's date with destiny comes Sunday.

The Claret Jug awaits.

Open Championship - Brian Harman, Small in size, big on heart
(Oisin Keniry/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

***

Round Three quick stats

• Brian Harman has shot 6 consecutive rounds under 70 in Open Championships, from round two in 2022 to round three of 2023 (68, 68, 66, 67, 65, 69). The record for most consecutive rounds under 70 is seven, shot by Ernie Els from round one of 1993 to round three of 1994.

• Harman joins Nick Price (round three, 1993 to round four, 1994) and Henrik Stenson (round four, 2015 to round one, 2017) who have also recorded six consecutive rounds under 70.

• Harman has a five-shot lead, the largest 54-hole lead since Rory McIlroy at Royal Liverpool in 2014 when he was six shots ahead.

• Jon Rahm’s round of 63 sets a new course record for Royal Liverpool. The previous lowest round was 65 recorded by 10 players across the 2006, 2014 and 2023 Opens. Rahm started the third round in tied-39th position and ended it in a tie for third. 63 betters his previous lowest round at The Open by one stroke (64 in the second round at Royal St George’s in 2021).

Rahm’s round is the 13th score of 63 in an Open. The lowest round ever in an Open was a 62 scored by Branden Grace in the third round at Royal Birkdale in 2017.

• There were five bogey-free rounds in the third round; Rickie Fowler (67), Patrick Cantlay (67), JT Poston (69), Jon Rahm (63) and Hideki Matsuyama (69).

• Competitors from 26 different countries made it through to the final two rounds of The 151st Open. This sets a new record for The Open. The previous record was 24 nationalities set at St Andrews last year.

• The stroke average for the third round was 70.43, over three shots lower than the second-round average of 73.45. For the day the field was cumulatively 43-under-par.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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