ROYAL LIVERPOOL — Perhaps rope-a-dope is a feature of the hunting landscape, a deliberate show of vulnerability to lower your prey’s guard before snapping back with lethal force. Brian Harman, golf’s great outdoorsman, had us fooled with a faltering start in which his overnight lead shrank from five to two.
A couple of bogeys over the opening four holes sent a shiver about Royal Liverpool. The pack closed in, salivating at the prospect of easy meat. And then the ambush. Throwing off his disguise, Harman drew back his bow and let fly. He was level for his round at the turn and back-to-back birdies on the inward nine re-established a five-shot advantage on 12 under par.
The promise of plunder that so many of the early starters enjoyed did not materialise for Tommy Fleetwood, who for the second day running could do no better than level par to finish seven shots back.
Fleetwood has shot 63 at the US Open so has it in him to cut loose on Sunday, but he will not be doing so in the final pairing. That honour falls to last year’s runner-up Cameron Young, who shot a 66 to punch his ticket alongside Harman.
It was certainly moving day. Jon Rahm was the epitome of golf’s favourite sobriquet with a stunning 63 that took him within four of the overnight lead on six under par. A hat-trick of birdies to start the back nine and three more over the closing four holes set the agenda with his lowest score in a major and a record at Hoylake. “It feels really good, but a lot of work still to do tomorrow,” Rahm said.
Open leaderboard 2023, Day 3
(After round three)
- 1: Brian Harman (-12)
- 2: Cameron Young (-7)
- 3: Jon Rahm (-6)
- T4: Viktor Hovland, Antoine Rozner, Jason Day, Sepp Straka, Tommy Fleetwood (-5)
- T9: Alex Fitzpatrick, Shubhankar Sharma (-4)
For live leaderboard updates, head to TheOpen.com
The Spaniard was walking off the last just as the leaders appeared on the first tee. Harman and Fleetwood would have known from watching the world No3 and others just how gettable Royal Liverpool had become, softened by heavy overnight rain. Fleetwood creamed his first drive of the day down the middle. Harman missed left. Not by much but enough to make the shot to the green awkward. He went long and failed to get up and down.
That one shot swing became two when Fleetwood birdied the second to reach six under. The gap would narrow still further at the fourth, where Harman dropped another.
What we thought we were seeing was a shift in dynamic that comes at the big show. Building a lead is one thing, holding it another. When Harman walked to the ninth tee, he was the only player in the top ten over par for his round. He walked off it level, and four holes later was back where he started.
What of Rory McIlroy in all this looting? He was part of it, with three birdies in his opening five holes to reach four under. It felt like this might be one of those magical McIlroy episodes when he turns a tournament on its head.
He is, however, vulnerable to dramatic shifts in the opposite direction. Missed opportunities seem to weigh more than the successes, almost inviting a negative outcome.
Sure enough, McIlroy lost momentum when the birdie putts stayed up. A bogey at the 12th was received as a blow to the soft ribs. Thereafter he came home in a fog of straight pars to finish nine back on three under.