Harman wins first major as he holds off Open rivals
American Brian Harman survived an early scare to claim his first major title in dominant fashion on a rain-soaked final day of the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
Harman’s five-shot overnight lead was briefly cut to three as he covered the first five holes in two over par in miserable conditions, but the 36-year-old responded superbly to regain his vice-like grip on the Claret Jug.
A victory made possible by a stunning 65 on Friday – the joint-lowest score in a Hoylake Open until Jon Rahm’s Saturday 63 – was sealed with gritty rounds of 69 and 70 for a total of 13 under par and six-shot win over Rahm, Jason Day, Sepp Straka and Tom Kim.
Rory McIlroy and Emiliano Grillo finished another stroke back, with home favourite Tommy Fleetwood and Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan in a tie for 10th.
Harman, who is just the third left-hander to win the Open after Bob Charles (1963) and Phil Mickelson (2013), last tasted victory on the PGA Tour in 2017, the same year in which he led by one after 54 holes of the US Open before finishing second to Brooks Koepka.
Padraig Harrington posted a final round 74 to finish in a tie for 64th on eight over.
Only two players in championship history had squandered a five-shot lead after 54 holes – Macdonald Smith in the last Open staged at Prestwick in 1925 and Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999.
Harman briefly looked in danger of joining that unhappy club when he dropped a shot on the second before Rahm closed the gap further with a fortunate birdie on the par-five fifth.
Rahm’s drive was pulled towards a collection of gorse bushes but somehow avoided all of them and left the world number three with a good lie and clear shot, from where he came up just short of the green and two-putted.
Harman’s tee shot on the fifth then followed the same line as Rahm, only to plunge into a bush and force him to take a penalty drop, leading to a second bogey and cutting his lead to three.
That was just Harman’s fifth bogey of the week and for the third time he bounced back immediately with a birdie, holing from 15 feet on the sixth to edge further clear.
Another top-quality iron shot set up a birdie on the seventh, restoring Harman’s overnight cushion and effectively ending the championship as a contest.
Even when Straka briefly got within three shots thanks to a birdie on the 16th, Harman promptly holed from 40 feet for birdie on the 14th and he added another on the next before calmly parring the last three holes to seal a convincing victory.
Speaking at the presentation ceremony, Harman said: « I’ve got to thank my wife and family back home. I sure miss them and can’t wait to see them.
« First, I’m going to have me a couple of pints out of this here trophy, I believe.
« This golf course was a real test. It was set up so great even with the weather so thanks to everyone that helped put it together.
« I want to thank the R&A for putting together such an incredible championship. I couldn’t be happier to be its champion. »
McIlroy, who began the day nine behind, made the ideal start with a hat-trick of birdies from the third but was unable to make any further inroads and had to settle for a closing 68, his lowest score of the week.
The world number two won the Open at Hoylake in 2014 and the US PGA Championship a month later, but has not claimed one of the game’s biggest titles since.
McIlroy immediately turned his attention to the Ryder Cup after failing to end his long wait for a fifth major title
The Down golfer was unable to reproduce his best form at Royal Liverpool and had to settle for a final score of six under after a closing round of 68 on Sunday.
Yet after winning the Scottish Open last week and making par or better in each of his four rounds at Hoylake, the world number two was not displeased with his showing and remains positive.
Chief among his aims is piloting Europe to Ryder Cup glory in Rome this autumn and gaining revenge for their heavy loss in the United States two years ago.
The 34-year-old said: « Confidence is high. I’m playing well, obviously off the back of the win last week and another solid performance here.
« I want to be to be right in there and win another FedEX Cup, (there is) the race to Dubai to win and the Ryder Cup, which is the most important of all.
« After what happened at Whistling Straits, I don’t think we couldn’t be more motivated to go to Rome and get that Ryder Cup back.
« There is a lot to golf to play individually before that but I think a lot of our attention will turn to Rome after this. »
McIlroy, who won the last time the Open was held at Hoylake in 2014, will now see his major title drought extended to a decade but he insists that is not something he thinks about.
He said: « I don’t think that way. I just keep looking forward. I’m optimistic about the future and I’ve just got to keep plugging away. »
McIlroy started his final round strongly with three successive birdies from the third hole but was unable to maintain the momentum amid heavy and persistent rain.
He said: « I got off to a really good start but it’s just hard to keep that going. They were tricky conditions out there.
« But every time I tee it up – or most times I tee it up – I’m right there. I can’t sit here and be too frustrated. Overall, it was a solid performance, not spectacular. »