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.
The Champion Golfer of the Year. pic.twitter.com/wAFKiddk0e
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 23, 2023
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.
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.
— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) July 23, 2023
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.
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.
Six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo, commentating for Sky Sports, said: “When he won a quick four everyone was wondering is he going to have a dozen or how close can he get to Jack (Nicklaus, who won 18).
“People think you just roll off a log and win a major but you don’t. I said years ago he would either be ecstatic to get to five or disappointed to only end up with 12 and he’d be ecstatic to get to five now.
“He is talented enough, he’s got the desire and he is really fit, there’s just a couple of things wrong with his short irons. You’ve got to find a way of clearing the air and finding a way with eight iron or less.”