The larger golf world is treating the prospect of the final round at Royal Liverpool as fait accompli, and you can understand why. In the last 40 years, only two golfers have blown 54-hole leads of five shots or more in men’s majors ((the other nine have won), and it took the unthinkable meltdowns of Greg Norman and Jean van de Velde to even get those two. Brian Harman, who leads the Open Championship by five over Cameron Young (a guy who has never won a PGA Tour event, much less a major) doesn’t seem like a Norman or Van de Velde type, and he is the obvious and heavy favourite to win the claret jug.
But not so fast. Here are seven reasons why it’s not a certainty that Harman closes things out, and why there may be some drama left on the Hoylake links.
1. Brian Harman has never won a major
The first major is always the hardest to win (unless you’re Rory McIlroy, in which case it’s the fifth), and while the big lead will make things easier on Harman than someone tied for first in the final group, he’ll still have to sleep on a massive lead for the second straight night. Nervous, racing thoughts are almost inevitable, and all it takes is a somewhat rocky start to bring the outcome into doubt. The last time he held a 54-hole lead at a major, in 2017 at the U.S. Open, he shot a middling 72 and lost to Brooks Koepka.
2. Brian Harman hasn’t even won a PGA Tour event since 2017
Harman has a reputation as a tough player, but at age 36, ranked No. 26 in the world, we can safely say that he’s better at playing consistently good golf than he is at winning. In fact, after a decorated junior and college career, he’s won just twice on the PGA Tour. The fact that he hasn’t closed out a single tournament since 2017 despite having the most top-10s in that period is a red flag—he’ll have to achieve something tomorrow that is not at all familiar.
3. His two closest chasers, Cameron Young and Jon Rahm, are scary
Yes, Cam Young has yet to win a PGA Tour event, but you get the same sense with him that you did with Scottie Scheffler before he won his first event in Phoenix — it’s inevitable, and when it happens he might reel off a bunch. Keep in mind that last year at St Andrews, he shot a Sunday 65, and beat Rory McIlroy despite trailing by four shots to start the day. If not for Cam Smith, Young would already have a claret jug. And do we really need to sell Jon Rahm to you? He just shot a 63 to briefly revive the tournament, he spent Sunday at the Masters chasing down and beating Brooks Koepka, and he’s going to be chomping at the bit. Harman better not look in the rear-view mirror.
4. Weather could complicate matters
A steady rain is expected to fall all afternoon on Sunday, and the wind will pick up at least slightly into the 10-15 mph range. Anything that introduces variability means, in theory, that the leader can be the one hit with bad luck and bad outcomes. If you’re chasing Harman, you want the possibility that he blows up and helps you out, and that’s far more likely in bad weather than good.
5. The course has its own trap doors even without weather
The pot bunkers and the internal OB at Royal Liverpool are the kinds of stumbling blocks that can produce a disaster. Again, if your perspective as a chaser is that you want Harman to triple a hole, the ingredients are there, and he only has to mess up once to bring the entire field back into play.
6. It will be hard to keep up his torrid putting; regression is coming
Harman’s strokes gained/putting is outrageous at +9.27, first among all players in the field. That’s a sign of a steady hand, yes, but in a short sample size like 54 holes, it also means he’s had his share of good fortune. From inside 10 feet, for instance, he’s 11 for 11, when the PGA Tour average is 56 percent; he just can’t miss. But if things regress even mildly on Sunday, the thing that has allowed him to build up his massive lead will be gone, and who knows how that affects other elements of the game. Again, any slip-up is massive.
7. He has to deal with a hostile crowd
“You know, I’d be lying if I didn’t hear some things that weren’t super nice today towards me,” Harman said on Saturday, and when asked to elaborate, he smiled and called them “unrepeatable.” Part of that was the fact that he was paired with hometown boy Tommy Fleetwood, but make no mistake, the British fans would prefer that one of their own win. If Fleetwood or even a continental European like Rahm makes a run, they’ll have the full support of the crowd, they’ll be all over Harman. He rolled with the punches on Saturday, but with the pressure of the final round, the increased stress could take its toll.
None of this is to say that Harman will lose, or that anyone should expect him to lose. We just want to make the point that golf is weird, pressure has odd consequences, and if you’re looking for a few ways that the steady Georgian might spit the bit at the end, you don’t have to look that far.