By Tim Liotta
Harman Closes Out The 151st Open Championship
Brian Harman endured another shaky start, a day-long steady rain and worsening conditions, and held himself together to finish off a 6-shot victory at the 151st Open Championship at a soggy Royal Liverpool on Saturday.
For the second day in a row the veteran PGA Tour pro who has led the tour in top-10 finishes (29) the last six seasons and had not won since 2017, recovered from two early bogeys and finished 13-under-par to claim the first major championship, and only the third PGA Tour victory over his 12-year career.
Harman led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+11.57), and even though he gives up quite a bit of yardage to the game's biggest hitters, his accuracy off the tee rated 11th in the field (+3.26).
"You know, I've always had a self-belief that I could do something like this," Harman said. "It's just when it takes so much time it's hard not to let your mind falter, like maybe I'm not winning again.
"I'm 36 years old. Game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out, hit it a mile, and they're all ready to win. Like when is it going to be my turn again.
"It's been hard to deal with. I think someone mentioned that I've had more top 10s than anyone since 2017, so that's a lot of times where you get done, you're like, dammit, man, I had that one; it just didn't happen for whatever reason.
"Yeah, to come out and put a performance like that together, like start to finish, just had a lot of control. I don't know why this week, but I'm very thankful that it was this week."
Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Sepp Straka and Tom Kim finished tied for second at -7 under par, with Emiliano Grillo, who had a share of the first round lead on Thursday, and Rory McIlroy finished tied for sixth another shot back.
Cameron Young and Matthew Jordan of England, who has been a member at Royal Liverpool since he was a child, tied for 10th at 4-under-par.
In both the third and fourth rounds, he made made a pair of early bogeys, two in the first four holes on Saturday, and two in the first five on Sunday. On Saturday, he recovered to post four birdies, 14 pars, and recovered his five-shot advantage after seeing it shrink to two shots. On Sunday, he made four birdies, one bogey, and eight pars.
"There were fleeting thoughts throughout the day, but I told myself I wasn't going to let any of that come into my brain," Harman said. "So any time it came, I just thought of something else.
I really honestly didn't think about winning until I had the ball on the green on 18."
The 5-foot-7 Harman took control of the championship with a second-round, 6-under-par, bogey-free 65, and then had to sleep on a 5-shot lead both Friday and Saturday night. But he never let anyone get closer than two shots the rest of the way, even though several of the game's biggest names, both in reputation and stature, took runs at him.
"It was a tough last three days, really was," Harman said. "Being able to get some sleep was big last night. Sleeping on a lead like that is really difficult, so glad of the way I hung in there the last couple days.
"Got off to a bad start both days and turned it around, so really happy with that."
His 8-under-par 63, the lowest round by two strokes at Royal Liverpool, vaulted the 6-foot-2 Spaniard back into content on Saturday, but on Sunday, Rahm could only make three birdies in a final-round, 1-under-par 70. He never got closer to the lead than four shots.
"It's golf. He won by six," Rahm said of Harman. "It's not like he won by two or three. He won by six, so there's nothing really any of us could have done. There's nothing any of us could have done."
The game's most popular player birdied three holes in a row early Sunday, moving into a tie for second, but was able to make just two birdies along with a pair of bogeys the rest of the way.
"I got off to a really good start but it's just hard to keep that going," McIlroy said. "... Just tricky conditions out there, and very reluctant to hit the driver because the club face gets wet and the ball could go anywhere.
"Sort of had to lay back off tees and try to play as conservatively and as smart as possible. Yeah, overall solid performance, not spectacular, but a lot of optimism going into the rest of the year."
The sentimental favorite going into the Championship, McIlroy finished off his major championship season with three top-10 finishes, including runnerup at the U.S. Open, adding another full year to his major-championship drought since 2014, something he refuses to dwell on.
"I don't think that way. I think about trying to go and win a fourth FedExCup here in a couple weeks' time, go try and win a fifth Race to Dubai, go and win a fifth Ryder Cup. I just keep looking forward.
Over the last two seasons, McIlroy has seven top-10 finishes in the eight major championships. He also finished tied for second at the 2022 Masters and third at the 2022 Open Championship at St Andrews."
The former Number One and past major champion also had several opportunities AunsY to close the gap on the winner, but the 6-foot, 35-year-old Australian could make a critical putt down the stretch.
"I played nice, but I just didn't capitalize on my opportunities on the backside, and then, I mean, he just played too good," said Day, who posted his first major championship top-20 since 2020 and thought the wet conditions contributed to the fact there were a lack of challengers for Harman on Sunday.
"The ball was going at least 30-to-40 yards shorter off the tee," said Day, who added, "a lot wetter, probably one of the wettest days I've ever played golf in."
A PGA Tour winner just two weeks ago had second-place to himself late Sunday, but the 6-foot-3 Austrian suffered a bogey on the finishing hole of a 2-under-par 69 that dropped him into a tie for second.
"It was tough, it was really tough," said STraka. "It was hard to be aggressive. Hats off to Brian because it seems like he played an incredible round in these conditions. It's tough when you're that far ahead. We couldn't really make any moves. It was really hard.
Last year's Open Championship runner-up played his way into Sunday's final group, but the 5-foot-11 American was unable to sink the putt that could have ignited a challenge, struggling to a 2-over-par 73 on Sunday.
"I think if you watched, you probably saw some mediocre putting," Young said. "I just struggled with the greens all week. I think tee to green I was probably one of the best couple in the field, if not the best, and that definitely let me down this week.
Playing with an severely sprained right ankle suffered Thursday night that was in a caste overnight, Kim made a pair of bogeys on the first two holes before playing the remaining 16 holes 6-under-par for a final-round 67 that grabbed a share of second late in the day.
"Obviously coming down the stretch of a major when you're playing well the adrenaline kind of hits and makes sure you're kind of in it," Kim said.
"It was kind of nice to almost forget about it a little bit, because when you're in the moment you don't really think about it. I think today was probably the best it's been out of the three days, so kind of relieved."
The player given the honor of hitting the Championship's opening tee shot because of his ties to Royal Liverpool put together rounds of 69-72-69-70 after earning his way into the field through Final qualifying two weeks ago.
"I think the proudest thing I am about the whole week was how I've been able to play under pressure," said Jordan. "I've wanted to do so well, and I've had so much support, that I've been able to perform, to play the golf course like I have. So I think for me knowing that under what has been some of the most pressure I've ever experienced I can still performed, so certainly that."
Jordan finished up his week with a birdie on the finishing hole and tipped his cap in appreciation of the raucous ovation he received from the crowd.
"I hit it left off 18 and, because of the railings, I had to walk with all my mates and all the fans there, and they were just cheering me on, and just laughing and joking. And then, obviously, to do what I did, hit it close and hole that putt was like just the ultimate feeling to cap off what has been just the best week ever," he said.