Brian Harman knows Saturday evenings, sleep can be hard to come by, and he knows how much he needs it. The 54-hole leader of a major tournament six years ago – he was in this situation – and knew the painful cost of a suitable night: runner-up, months and years, a career not on the brink, but not among the serious elite.
He slept better this time. Harman, atop the leaderboard at Royal Liverpool Golf Club since Friday, made a systematic march to win the British Open by six strokes on Sunday, finishing at 13 under par. As the final round was defined by a get-it-done grid rather than a star-turn splash, Harman held off a group of competitors whose competition scores circled each other rather than close to his.
It was the biggest win in a men’s golf major since Bryson DiZambo’s six-stroke victory at the 2020 US Open.
“I’ve always had the confidence to do something like this,” Harman said. “When it takes so long, it’s hard not to let your mind slip, maybe I won’t win again.”
“I’m 36 years old,” he added. “The game is getting younger. All these young guys coming out hit it a mile and they’re all ready to win. When will it be my turn again? It was hard to deal with. “
Those doubts were cleared on Sunday.
After Sunday’s first par, Harman had a five-stroke lead, a comfortable gap but not insurmountable, especially since Paul Laurie overcame a 10-shot, final-round deficit at Carnoustie in Scotland in 1999. That history aside, Sunday’s big mystery isn’t whether Harman will succeed at a decidedly sad Royal Liverpool, but by how much.
Unlike Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool, hosting the British Open for the 13th time, has long been kind to the men who climbed the leaderboard early. With his victory, Harman became the seventh player to win an Open at the course after taking the lead after two rounds.
“He won by six, so there was nothing any of us could have done,” Jon Rahm said.
Harman, who played in college in Georgia and turned professional in 2009, has been a reliably prolific player on the PGA Tour, ranking 10 in the top 50 before the Open. But despite career earnings of nearly $29 million at Royal Liverpool on Sunday, whose performance won him $3 million, Harman wasn’t seen as a headliner.
He had two wins, the John Deere Classic in 2014 and the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017. The following month, Brooks lost to Koepka by four strokes at the US Open at Erin Hills, Wisconsin. Ranked 26th in the world (and no higher than 20th) before the Royal Liverpool win, he said he wasn’t underestimating himself.
When asked the weekend before Sunday what his greatest accomplishment in the game was, he leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms and rolled his eyes, a subdued tour player contemplating an open contender with a professional golf version of a workday resume.
“This year will be my 12th in a row making the FedEx Cup playoffs,” he replied five seconds later.
His record at the majors this year has been more mixed, although he has now climbed to the No. 10 ranking. He lost both the Masters and the PGA Championship, and tied for 43rd at the US Open. Then came Royal Liverpool, who played in his first British Open in 2014. Then, Rory McIlroy won, and Harman tied for 26th.
He began losing cuts during his next four Opens. He tied for 12th at the Scottish Open before returning to a course in northwest England that has found champions in the likes of Bobby Jones, Peter Thompson and Tiger Woods.
Harman’s Odyssey It started with the Open on Thursday, when he shot a 67 to tie for fourth. On Friday, he birdied the first four holes to finish with an eagle 65 that gave him sole command of the leaderboard. After a pair of early bogeys, his 69 on Saturday brought him into Sunday with a five-stroke lead over Cameron Young and a six-shot advantage over Rahm, who had the best Saturday round at any Open at Royal Liverpool.
Of course the risks were high. The number of bunkers are effectively one-shot penalties, as 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith said. The newly designed par-3 17th hole, which punished the US Open winner, suggested it be redesigned again. Sunday’s British Open brought a more bitter dose of weather: strong winds and drenching rain, certainly feeling like a sauna and rain at the same time.
But a five-shot lead at sunrise, even with a view of the sun, helps.
“He’s a very tough, experienced character,” Padraig Harrington, a two-time Open winner, said before Harman’s final round began. “Sometimes we see someone leading a match and you’re like, ‘Oh, is he going to hang?’ I don’t think that’s the case with Brian Harman. Almost every day he goes out on the golf course playing with a chip on his shoulder, fighting something. I think it suits him.
The raindrops were still falling when Harman stepped up to the tee. With his back to the nearby Claret pitcher, he positioned himself, took one after another down the fairway and unleashed a left-handed swing. He’ll avoid a repeat bogey on Saturday and make par for the hole. But he missed a par putt on No. 2, where even a police officer moved away from the crowd to cut his lead. Young missed a 14-foot birdie putt that would have cut it short by another stroke.
Although seven groups ahead, McIlroy was rising. He started the day just under three o’clock. After five holes, he was six under and suddenly tied for second. Rahm was making pars, and Young, paired with Harman, had already bogeyed the first. By the time Harman’s ball rolled onto the third green, there were five players — McIlroy, Rahm, Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Seb Straka — on the second. But Harman’s margin remained the same as at the beginning.
Other potential contenders aren’t close, not after the cut slashes its prospective star power leaderboard. Most of those who remained did not pose serious threats. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler finished the Open at even par. Wyndham Clarke, who won last month’s US Open, left Hoylake at one over, as did Smith. Koepka, who won this year’s PGA Championship, finished second at the Masters, eight over.
On the fifth hole, the week’s easiest test par-5, Harman’s tee shot flew 249 yards and hit the bushes, putting him halfway to the pin.
At the pin, Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, tapped his ball in for his first Sunday birdie and started to advance. Once Harman made it to the green, a 12-foot effort eventually fell short, and when the fifth hole closed for the tournament, Harman’s lead was down to three strokes.
The suspense didn’t exactly last.
He moved it uphill again on the par-3 sixth hole, where he holed a birdie putt from about 14 feet, then again on the no. 7, where he made a birdie from 24 feet.
Consistency returned until Harman made a bogey on the par-3 13th hole, a favorite of Royal Liverpool members. But the players closest to Harman were quickly approaching the 18th green and running out of time. McIlroy, looking for his first major tournament victory since 2014, missed a birdie putt there to finish at six under. Tom Kim soon left the last green and was still stuck at seven under, as were Rahm, Straka and Jason Day.
Elsewhere along the way, Harman himself leaned toward making the inevitable. He birdied the 14th hole with a putt that ran about 40 feet downhill into the cup. No. Another birdie on 15 moved his lead to six shots.
The rain kept coming. Harman continued his march. A procession of defeated players headed for the clubhouse. Carver of claret pitcher ready.
Soon it will be time to add Harman’s name.