There have been thrilling final days at the Open Championship. This was not one of them.
For Brian Harman, the Claret Jug and easily the most significant win of a hitherto decent career. For any onlooker, disappointment that the frontrunner was never properly threatened during round four at rain-lashed Royal Liverpool. This was a procession rather than anything even remotely resembling sporting theatre.
Harman has no cause to care, can hardly be blamed and those utterly miserable conditions played a part but this was an unsatisfactory conclusion to the major championship season. More than eight months will pass until the next of them tees off at Augusta National. Roll on spring, by which point this Wirral links may even have dried out.
Harman, a hunter in his spare time, had no interest whatsoever in the thrill of the chase. As if with bow and arrow in hand, the 36-year-old picked off pretenders one at a time. His life is about to enter a different stratosphere including, surely, with a Ryder Cup debut for the United States in September. Zach Johnson, the US captain, was among the first to embrace the champion golfer of the year.
Harman is $3m richer. At 5ft 7in, he is the tiny golfer with the huge heart. His refusal to wilt – a la Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie or Greg Norman at the Masters – provided a lesson in sporting psychology. Harman’s putting was sensational throughout. His driving and iron play both remained wonderfully accurate. One was left to wonder why on earth he had not won on tour since 2017.
On the tee at the 72nd hole, Harman held a six-shot lead. He could have closed out the tournament with a blindfold, clown shoes and a child’s pitching wedge. The margin of victory remained half a dozen strokes, Harman’s 13 under par leaving the minus sevens gasping for air. Tom Kim, Sepp Straka, Jason Day and Jon Rahm shared second. Harman’s 70 was his highest score of the 151st Open.
Kim’s performance after a first round of 74 was stunning given the ankle injury that almost forced him to withdraw from the event. He closed with a 67 and a heavy limp. Straka will now have genuine aspirations of forcing his way on to Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team. “It has been a huge goal,” said the Austrian. “Over the last year and a half really it’s been on my radar. I am really looking forward to having a chance.” Day’s surge back to the top of golf continues. “He won by six, it’s not like he won by two or three,” said Rahm. “So there’s nothing really any of us could have done.” Still, the Masters champion will privately rue Thursday when, like Kim, he signed for three over par.
An indication of how dominant Harman was in Hoylake comes from a closer glance at scoring. The left hander from the state of Georgia was 10 under par after 36 holes. Straka became the first player to reach minus eight, at the 16th hole of his final round.
Harman had a very useful habit of rebounding forcefully from aberrations. After driving into a bush at the 5th, he dropped to 10 under par. Rahm, who had just birdied the same hole, was within three. Harman birdied the 6th and 7th to re-establish his grip on the Claret Jug. He dropped another shot at the short 13th, only to birdie the next two. Harman’s converted birdie putt at the 14th was from 40ft. By the following green, the game was up for all others. Straka bogeyed the last and Day birdied but these individuals were only ever playing for places. Harman’s dropped shot at the 13th proved the last of six across 72 holes.
It seemed unfair that Tommy Fleetwood finished joint 10th given his contribution to the Open. Fleetwood struggled to gather momentum throughout Sunday but came seriously unstuck at the controversial 17th, where he slipped to a triple bogey six. Fleetwood’s fourth round was 72.
Rory McIlroy’s wait for major win number five will rumble into a 10th year. That represents an extraordinary scenario given how dominant McIlroy was when winning the Open here in 2014. McIlroy signed off with a 68 to tie sixth at six under. As at the US Open, an inability to hole key putts undermined McIlroy’s challenge. His challenge is to keep the faith. It must sting McIlroy that a number of the individuals who are getting to the top of major podiums before him are hardly marquee names. Harman follows Wyndham Clark in that context. Emiliano Grillio joined McIlroy at six under.
Matthew Jordan, the hometown hero, closed with a birdie and the receipt of the wildest cheers of the day. Jordan’s tied 10th will ensure an invite for Royal Troon in 2023. “It was just the perfect finish to what has been the most unbelievable week,” said Jordan, a Royal Liverpool member since childhood. “I was lucky enough to play it at St Andrews, which I love. I think that place is brilliant. But in terms of this for me and all the sentiment involved, this is the one.”
Harman concurs. Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy. He has added his name to an illustrious list of Royal Liverpool champions. It was just that the circumstances attached left us all feeling somewhat flat.