American left-hander Brian Harman claimed the Claret Jug and the title of Champion Golfer of the Year after shooting a one-under-par 70 on a damp Sunday on the Wirral.
The 36-year-old from Georgia, ranked 26th in the world, started the final round with a five-shot lead and although the gap was briefly closed to three mid-way through the afternoon, Harman barely had to get out of third gear to win the 151th Open championship by an impressive six shots come the close of play.
Harman hit the front at Royal Liverpool on Friday morning and never let anyone else back in on the way to claiming his first major title and his first win of any kind in six years. A 65 in the second round put Harman into a five-shot lead at halfway, while equalling the Royal Liverpool record at an Open. From there, he had to deal with early bogeys on Saturday and Sunday, major champions making their move, deteriorating weather, and above all, time.
Harman openly admitted that he has an active mind and struggles when he is given too much time to think about the magnitude of what is at stake, but he looked like to be running on autopilot for the last 36 holes, hitting fairways and greens with incredible consistency, making bounce-back birdies whenever he dropped a shot, and barely missing a putt that mattered.
After dropping a shot on the second hole, and another at the fifth after finding gorse off the tee, Harman briefly gave the chasing pack a glimmer of hope that the nerves magnitude of what he might be able to achieve had finally got to him, but back-to-back birdies on 6 and 7 seemed to dispel any hopes that his rivals may have harboured that a collapse was on the cards.
When Harman bogeyed 13 after missing a six-foot putt for par, there was just enough time for the nerves to kick back in. But once again, the response was immediate – a birdie from 40 feet on 14 putting to bed any fears of a sting in the tail. He backed that up with another birdie on 15 – holing out from 8 feet – to push his lead back to five.
That margin ended at six and that ability to bounce back from adversity appeared to play on the chasing pack. Birdie opportunities slipped by and the lead just would not close. Those who were playing good enough golf to put pressure on Harman were too far back. Tom Kim, somehow hobbling around despite suffering a grade one tear in his ankle after a slip on Thursday night, was the pick of them. The South Korean birdied 4 and then eagled 5, adding three more birdies for a brilliant 67 to finish seven-under and tied for second. But starting the day three-under, before bogeys on 1 and 2, effectively put him out of contention without a Harman collapse.
Austrian Sepp Straka was another to bogey the first, responding well for a 69 to join Kim in second, pushing his Ryder Cup cause despite a bogey on the last.
Jason Day, a former world number one, was the third member of the quartet in tied second, struggling to deal with the damp greens as birdie chances turned into pars, with the exception of a magnificent chip-in on 9.
Jon Rahm got as close as anyone and will look back with regret on a 30-footer on 6 that just missed as the chance to cut the lead to just two slipped away. More than that, the four putts inside four feet that were missed on the first two days will really sting. He birdied the last at least, to secure his best finish at The Open.
Rory McIlroy’s three straight birdies from 3 to 5 had the crowd in raptures, but as ever this week, he was never able to build on that momentum and some errant approaches and a cold putter saw him finish with a 68 for six-under-par and tied sixth with Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
The English challenge for a first Open Champion in 31 years never quite materialised. Royal Liverpool member Matthew Jordan finished with a birdie to secure a magical tied 10th finish, ending level with the other local hero, Tommy Fleetwood, whose race was run long before he triple-bogeyed the par-3 17th – leaving the local fans to trek home sodden and a more than a little sad that ‘Tommy Lad’ was unable to live up to their lofty expectations.
For the final scores from the 151st Open Championship, click here.