Brian Harman leads the Open Championship by a whopping five shots after shooting a flawless 65 on Friday. Harman got off to a hot start with four birdies in the first five holes and then strung together 12 straight pars before closing with an eagle on 18. Harman’s final hole lifted a good round to great and gave him a big cushion over the field that had mostly found itself tripped up by Hoylake’s design. Harman found success with a simple formula: hit fairways, hit greens, and hole some crucial par putts.
Harman had stellar junior and amateur careers and his professional career has been rock solid. He’s in his 12th year on the PGA Tour and has consistently been an above-average member. He has two career wins and has factored in a few majors, most notably the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills where he held the 54-hole lead. But this type of performance is uncharted territory for Harman; if he plays even-par golf the rest of the way, he has a great chance of winning a major. The big question for the rest of this golf tournament will be about whether or not the lefty blows up.
Hoylake’s bunkers and out of bounds have dished out severe penalties this week. But Harman has thrived at avoiding trouble, particularly off the tee. Over the first two days, he has only found one of Hoylake’s fairway bunkers and taken no penalty strokes. The lone fairway bunker he found was on the 12th on Friday, where he splashed out backwards and saved par with a chip in from off the green. The only other time that Harman has found serious trouble was on the 2nd hole on Thursday when he had to chop out of the native and ended up saving par.
The golf course requires restraint off the tee. We have seen players laying back to avoid the penal bunkers and out of bounds. Unlike most American courses, Hoylake’s bunkers and out of bounds can’t be bypassed by smashing it because the unpredictable fescue is an undesirable locale as well. This dynamic mitigates some of the power advantage that the elite players in the game possess over Harman. When Harman is often playing from a similar place as the game’s longest players, it gives his other exceptional skills an opportunity to shine. It makes sense that finds himself here with the best chance he’s ever had to win a major championship.
The otherworldly performance thus far from Harman has created a storyline we rarely see heading into a Saturday: one player, out on his own, attempting to avoid giving it away.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.