HOYLAKE, England – Brian Harman was slipping, Jon Rahm was surging, Jason Day was on the move, Tommy Fleetwood was still in it, and then there was Rory McIlroy.
On a rain-soaked Royal Liverpool, anything, it seemed, was possible.
Just when it appeared that the 151st Open Championship might turn into something other than a runaway, Harman stabilized while others watched once-promising rounds fade away. Harman will take a five-shot lead, the same lead he had at the start Saturday with, into the final round an Open Championship Sunday.
“Yeah, start was tough,” Harman said after bogeying two of the first four holes but signed for a 2-under 69. “Hit a couple loose shots. It was nice to turn around and have a nice back nine.”
Cameron Young (66), who is still avidly looking for his maiden PGA TOUR victory, is solo second and will be playing in the final group with Harman.
Rahm, who broke the competitive course record with an 8-under 63, is six back at 6 under.
This marks the 12th time in the last 40 years that a player has had a 54-hole lead of five or more shots at a major. The leader in nine of those instances won, with only Jean Van de Velde (five shots) at the 1999 Open Championship and Greg Norman (six) at the ’96 Masters failing to win.
Not too many people are familiar with Harman in the U.K., and, truth be told, he doesn’t get recognized much in the U.S., either. Because he’s spent time this week talking about his fondness for hunting, the tabloids have dubbed him The Butcher of Hoylake. He spoke about it again after his round Saturday. The big revelation: He knew how to skin a deer when he was 8.
Harman has also answered a lot of questions about his putting this week. He’s first in Strokes Gained: Putting (+9.27), has no three-putts, and is a staggering 44-for-44 from inside 10 feet.
Asked to identify his most important shots of the third round, Harman cited his 3-wood that reached the green at the par-5 fifth, setting up an easy birdie, and a par-saving putt from just inside six feet at the par-4 seventh hole. He tacked on birdies at the ninth, 12th and 13th holes to restore his five-shot lead. He will be teeing it up for his third PGA TOUR win Sunday.
Is it over? Perhaps not. Young hasn’t won yet, but all he did when he was in contention at The Open last year was shoot a final-round 65 to finish solo second.
“I think it’s the kind of place where if you lose sight of where you need to miss or what the correct shot is at any point, it can bite you very quickly,” Young said. “That’s almost a blessing, I think, that it’s difficult and requires a lot of your attention.
“But tomorrow will be just – obviously, Brian looks like he’s going to come in five or six ahead of me,” he added, “and in that case 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.”
Is it over? Perhaps not, given that Rahm authored the biggest final-round comeback on TOUR this year, seven strokes, in winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“Well, there’s a lot of golf to go,” Rahm said. “Honestly, I’m just going to enjoy the afternoon with my family, and that’s about it. There’s nothing to be done. Feel like I’ve done a lot of good work the past few weeks, and I’ve done a lot of good work this week, as well, and I’ve done what I’ve needed, which is give myself an opportunity.”
HOYLAKE, England – Romain Langasque, a Frenchman who plays the DP World Tour, looked like he’d just disembarked from a crabbing boat in the Bering Sea. His hood pulled up over his head and under his golf cap, he would’ve fit right in on “Deadliest Catch” but was in fact standing on the first tee at Royal Liverpool.
Emiliano Grillo, winner of the recent Charles Schwab Challenge, wore a ski hat.
And then Friday’s second round of the 151st Open Championship turned sunny, breezy and dry, with everyone shedding clothing and wondering what happened – and what other surprises awaited.
This has been the Unexpected Open, and that goes for more than the forecast.
Start with the leader – a crafty, albeit often overlooked lefthander. We should have known Scotsman Robert MacIntyre would do well this week, coming off his absurdly good final-round 64 in whipping winds last week at the Genesis Scottish Open.
Only it’s not MacIntyre distancing himself from the field. It’s Brian Harman, on whom you could’ve gotten 125-to-1 odds to win. Harman is a model of consistency, having made the FedExCup Playoffs for a dozen straight years. But he also has the most top-10 finishes (29) without a win on the PGA TOUR since the start of the 2017-18 season.
At the Unexpected Open, though, the normal rules don’t apply. MacIntyre made the Sky TV broadcast for beaning a spectator and proffering a signed glove at the par-5 fifth, while Harman shot a second-round 65 in tough and breezy conditions, stands at 10 under par, and leads by five.
“Unbelievably impressive,” said pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy, who shot 70 on Friday and stands at 1 under. “He’s been doing some good work with Justin Parsons, and yeah, he’s been up there on leaderboards over the last few weeks.” (Harman tied for 12th at the Genesis Scottish Open last week.)
And there it was: Justin Parsons, the guy whom reporters would surely ask Harman about.
At the Unexpected Open, the leader wound up talking about 1971 and ’72 Champion Golfer of the Year Lee Trevino, since someone asked why the two were talking at last year’s Open at St. Andrews.
“That was a technical golf swing question,” Harman said. “Lee has always been incredibly nice to me. I wouldn’t expect him to know me from – couldn’t pick me out of a lineup of two, I would imagine, but he’s always made it a point to say hello, so I’ve always appreciated him and made it a point whenever I’m around him to talk to him.”
Also unexpected: Justin Thomas, a 15-time PGA TOUR winner and two-time major champion, said after his even-par 71 Friday that he was using the round to prepare for the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities next week. That’s because he shot 82 in Round 1 – his worst score in a major, tied for the worst in his career – and had little hope of making the 36-hole cut.
“There’s nobody that shot 82 that hit some of the quality shots that I did yesterday,” Thomas said, processing in real time a predicament that has him outside the top 70 in the FedExCup and thus in line to miss the Playoffs. “It doesn’t make sense. I’ll hit shots like a No. 1 player in the world, and then I’ll make a nine on my last hole.”
Gary Woodland, who carded a 71 Friday and stands at 2 over, accidentally hit a metal barricade from point-blank range, his ball somehow not shattering on impact. That, too, was unexpected.
So was FedExCup No. 1 Jon Rahm (70 on Friday, also at 2 over) missing four times from inside 4 feet.
“Four shots that you can’t give up in major championships,” Rahm said.
Tony Finau (75 Friday, 6 over for tournament) used his putter to nudge his ball backward away from the face of a pot bunker. Of all the putting questions he’s gotten, he surely never anticipated this scenario.
Then again, it wasn’t just Finau. The pot bunkers created chaos in the first round, the R&A having flattened out the sandy bottoms so balls could roll right up to the steep, striated sod edges. It had happened to Rahm and McIlroy, too, in Round 1, and there was the potential for something like that to decide the championship.
Oops, never mind. The R&A changed course overnight and into Friday morning, building up the edges of the sandy areas to help stray balls roll away from the sod faces in Round 2. Unexpected.
The same goes for first-round co-leader Christo Lamprecht, the 6-foot-8 amateur going into his senior year at Georgia Tech, ballooning to a second-round 79 and most likely making the cut on the number.
And Shubhankar Sharma (71 Friday, 3-under total), the likeable player from India who hasn’t made much noise since leading the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship through three rounds, beating McIlroy, Rahm and Scottie Scheffler.
And John Deere Classic champion Sepp Straka went 5 under over his last seven holes to go from barely above the cut line into contention at 4-under par.
Unexpected. Unexpected. Unexpected.
This weekend’s forecast on the Wirral Peninsula is for overcast conditions and, potentially, “outbreaks of light or moderate rain, with some heavier bursts possible.”
Pass the sunscreen.
HOYLAKE, England – Christo Lamprecht is big (6 feet, 8 inches tall), has touched 200 mph ball speed, and used to play competitive tennis, which brings to mind a man serving out of the Goodyear Blimp. His grandfather was big, also 6-foot-8. His great grandfather was a 7-footer.
But those guys didn’t lead The Open Championship.
Lamprecht, a 22-year-old amateur from South Africa going into his senior year at Georgia Tech, shot a 5-under 66 at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on Thursday. That gave him the lead, and later the co-lead with England’s Tommy Fleetwood, on a sun-splashed day devoid of wind.
“The first tee shot was the only bit of nerves I had all day,” Lamprecht said. “I just kind of walked off the first tee box after hitting my snap hook drive, and my caddie (an assistant coach at Georgia Tech) just told me, ‘Listen, you’re playing The Open as an amateur; no need to stress.’
“We kind of had fun from there,” he added.
Lamprecht is in The Open Championship field by virtue of his victory in The Amateur Championship at Hillside Golf Club in Southport, just 28 miles north of Liverpool, last month. He barely got out of stroke play and nearly lost his first-round match, but he rolled from there.
In a way, his play Thursday was merely a continuation of that week. He made par at the first, then racked up seven birdies, including all three par 5s, and two bogeys. Through the morning wave he was No. 1 in average driving distance (325 yards) and Strokes Gained: Off the tee.
With his unusual build and extra-long levers, Lamprecht can look as if he’s using kids’ clubs. He has an unusual action that includes plenty of knee flex through the ball, but it works.
The 599-yard, par-5 18th hole was typical of his day. He blasted a 353-yard tee shot past playing partners Oosthuizen and Joost Luiten, prompting amazed laughter amongst the fans, then strode down the fairway, oblivious to their chatter. (Typical comment: “Who’s the big fella?”)
Then he hit a 251-yard second to 48 feet and two-putted for birdie.
And lest anyone think he’s one-dimensional, he chipped in for birdie at the par-4 14th and also gained more than a shot and a half against the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.
“He’s a giant man, and a lot of club head speed,” said 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink, who himself is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and, playing behind Lamprecht, shot 68 in the opening round.
Cink, a Georgia Tech graduate who often practices alongside the Yellow Jackets golf team in Atlanta, has never played against Lamprecht, but has watched, mesmerized, on the range.
“He’s got really nice hands and a soft touch around the greens with the little shots,” Cink said. “As a 50-year-old golfer seeing a guy like him, he is pretty much like your basic nightmare.”
Naturally, the assembled scribes at Royal Liverpool had questions, starting with the size of Lamprecht’s shoes (13). On the subject of his development as a golfer, he said there were awkward, growth-spurt years where “everything golf-wise was everywhere. I didn’t know what was going on. I was changing clubs every six months.”
About those clubs: He adds length and weight, and no one else wants anything to do with them, he said. When asked if he still plays tennis, he shook his head no.
“But I love playing pickleball,” he said. “We do that a bunch at Tech.”
Would he forego his senior season in order to turn pro?
“Kind of at the start of my college career I made a promise to our head coach I was going to stay four years,” he said, “and I think you’re only as valuable as your word. Yeah, I’m definitely planning on staying in college for the next year and planning on turning pro after that.”
That’s a good thing, because assuming he remains an amateur, his victory in The Amateur Championship also qualified him for next year’s Masters Tournament and U.S. Open.
Finally, and most importantly, who is the tallest player he’s ever come up against?
“Tommy Morrison,” Lamprecht said. “He plays at Texas, a freshman at Texas – 6’10” – recently. Looked up to him and he’s like, ‘Hey, big guy.’ I was like, OK, fair enough.
“It caught me off-guard a little bit,” he added.
He’s caught a lot of others off-guard in the first round, but now we know. Fair enough.