Brian Harman leads by a nose but margins are fine at US Open
Top 13 players separated by five shots as Justin Thomas lights up Erin Hills with 63
Brian Harman leads heading into the final day of the US Open at Erin Hills. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty
You wouldn’t know what to make of it all, if you thought about it too much. No DJ. No Rory. No JD. And, yet, as this 117th edition of the US Open played out on the glacial drumlins of Erin Hills in the wilds of Wisconsin, so many storylines developed as a packed leader board - headed by the left-hander Brian Harman - sought to make up for the absences of golf’s poster boys.
Harman claimed the 54-hole lead, after a third round 67 for a 54-hole total of 12-under-par 204 gave him a position on the front of the grid heading into what promises to be a final lap of twists and turns. With no fewer than 34 players under par, unheard of in a US Open where par has so often been king, Harman will feel like the outlaw pursued by a posse as he chases a breakthrough Major title.
On a wild and wonderful day of scoring, Justin Thomas signed for a 63 - a round of nine-under - that constituted the lowest ever round to par in the championship’s long and celebrated history. Thomas was one of those, in a three-way tie for second, along with Brooks Koepka and England’s Tommy Fleetwood, just a shot behind Harman.
Of them all, Fleetwood - who bogeyed the last - will feel as if he should at least have finished alongside Harman. Unfortunately for him, a finishing bogey on the 18th, the easiest hole statistically in the championship, meant he is playing catch-up. Still, the man from Liverpool was upbeat: “I can’t say how much having one of my best mates (caddie, Ian Finnis) on my bag. If I go out and shoot 65 or 85, I can still walk off the last green with one of my best mates in the world. We have had a great plan all week and it has worked out pretty well so far.”
With the leading 13 players separated by only five shots, however, it means the final round showdown is likely to throw up any number of curve balls. That Thomas, who earlier his season shot a round of 59 in Hawaii, became the fifth player in US Open history to sign for a 63 - finishing with an eight footer for eagle on the last hole - indicated more than anything that any one of a number of players can still have realistic hopes of winning.
Harman, the pacesetter, is in unchartered terrain. Considered a shorter hitter on tour, he was asked if there was any motivation from the pre-championship view that this was a bombers’ paradise. As it happened, the world’s top-three ranked players - Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day - all missed the cut.
“I’m more motivated by the fact that I’ve made a plan and I’ve stuck to the plan so far. Obviously I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I’m more motivated by the way that I’m striking the ball. It’s the best I’ve struck the ball in a long time. And my short game is pretty good. I’ve been putting it pretty good. So I’m excited about all those things,” responded Harman.
With the wind set to change for the final round, bringing a cooler northerly airflow, the challenge could be tougher for the final round. But Harman is the man in the driving seat, albeit with large packs in pursuit. The trio of Thomas, Koepka and Fleetwood are a shot adrift, with Rickie Fowler a stroke further back.