Brian Harman knew that Saturday night it might be hard to sleep, no matter how much he knew he needed it. He had been in this situation, the 54-hole leader in a major tournament, six years ago and knew the harrowing cost of an uneven night: a second-place finish, months and then years of uncertainties, a career not on the fringes but not among the ultra-elite.
He slept pretty well this time. Harman, sitting at the top of the standings at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club since Friday, made a methodical march on Sunday to win the British Open by six shots, finishing at 13-under. With a final round defined more by determination to make it than star splatter, Harman held off a group of challengers whose tournament scores ended up swarming around others rather than near his own.
It was the largest margin of victory in a major men’s golf tournament since Bryson DeChambeau’s six-shot victory at the 2020 US Open.
“I’ve always believed in myself that I could do something like this,” Harman said. “It’s just that when it takes so long, it’s hard not to let your mind waver, like maybe I’m not winning again.”
“I am 36 years old,” he added. “The game is getting younger. All these young guys that come out make it a mile, and they’re ready to win. Like, when is it going to be my turn again? It’s been hard to handle.”
On Sunday he put an end to those doubts.
When the first matchup went off on Sunday, Harman held a five-shot lead, a comfortable gap but not an insurmountable one, especially in a tournament that in 1999 saw Paul Lawrie overcome a 10-shot deficit in the final round to win at Carnoustie in Scotland. That story aside, the biggest mystery for most of Sunday in a decidedly sodden Royal Liverpool seemed not to be if Harman would win, but by how much.
Unlike Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool, host of the British Open for the 13th time, has been kind to the men who climbed early in the rankings. With his win, Harman became the seventh player to win an Open at the course after leading after two rounds.
“He won by six, so there’s nothing any of us could have done,” said Jon Rahm, one of the four players who tied for second place.
Harman, who played at the University of Georgia and turned professional in 2009, has been a reliably talented player on the PGA Tour, posting 50 top-10 finishes before the Open. But despite having almost $29 million in career earnings on Sunday at Royal Liverpool, where his performance earned him $3 million, Harman was barely seen as a headliner.
He had two career victories, the John Deere Classic in 2014 and the Wells Fargo Championship in 2017. The following month, in what had been his best performance in a major, he tied for second at the US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where he lost to Brooks Koepka by four shots. Ranked 26th in the world (and never higher than 20th) before his victory at Royal Liverpool, he said he didn’t consider himself underrated.
Asked over the weekend what he considered his greatest achievement in the sport before Sunday, he leaned back in his seat, crossed his arms and averted his gaze, a moderate Tour stalwart turned open contender thinking about pro golf’s version of an everyday resume.
“This year will be the 12th year in a row that I’ve made the FedEx Cup playoffs,” he replied after about five seconds.
His record in the majors this year is wildly mixed, though he’s now moved up to No. 10 in the rankings. He missed the cut at the Masters Tournament and the PGA Championship, and tied for 43rd at the US Open. He then came to Royal Liverpool, the ground where he played his first British Open in 2014. Back then, Rory McIlroy won and Harman tied for 26th.
He proceeded to miss the cut during his next four starts. Coming to this, before returning to the course in the North West of England that he had also found champions in the likes of Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson and Tiger Woods, he finished tied for 12th at the Scottish Open.
Harman’s Odyssey Through this Open he started on Thursday, when his 67 put him in fourth place. On Friday, he birdied the first four holes and eagled the last for a 65 that gave him sole command of the standings. After a couple of early bogeys, his 69 on Saturday took him into Sunday with a five-shot lead over Cameron Young and a six-shot lead over Rahm, whose Saturday round was the best of any Open at Royal Liverpool.
The field had been fraught with danger. Dozens of bunkers that, as 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith put it, were effectively one-shot penalties. A newly designed par 3 17th hole that so battered a US Open winner that he suggested it be redesigned again. Sunday brought the bitterest dose of British Open weather: gusty winds and torrential rain, the course felt like both a sauna and a shower.
But a five-shot lead at dawn, despite the visibility of the sun, helps.
“He’s a very tough and experienced character,” Padraig Harrington, a two-time Open winner, said before Harman’s final round began. “Sometimes we see someone leading a tournament and you think, ‘Oh, is he going to hold up?’ I don’t think that’s the case with Brian Harman. Almost every day that he goes out to the golf course he is like playing with a chip on his shoulder, as if he is fighting against something. I think this is ideal for him.”
Raindrops were still falling when Harman came to the tee. With his back to the nearby claret pitcher, he steadied himself, cast glance after glance at the street, and unleashed his left-handed swing. He would par the hole, avoiding a repeat of Saturday’s bogey. But he barely missed a putt for par at No. 2, where even a police officer had stepped back from the crowd to watch and cut his lead. Young was unable to convert a 14-foot birdie putt that would have dropped him by another shot.
However, seven groups ahead, McIlroy was rising. The day had started at less than three. After five holes, he was 6 under and suddenly tied for second. Rahm was making pairs and Young, paired with Harman, had already bogeyed the first. As Harman’s ball was rolling down the third green, there were five players (McIlroy, Rahm, Young, Tommy Fleetwood and Sepp Straka) tied for second. But Harman’s margin held as long as it had at the start.
Other potential rivals weren’t around, not after the cut had sapped the leaderboard of much of their potential star power. Most of those who stayed did not pose serious threats. Scottie Scheffler, the highest ranked player in the world, finished the Open at par. Wyndham Clark, the winner of last month’s US Open, dropped Hoylake to one, as did Smith. Koepka, who won this year’s PGA Championship and was runner-up at the Masters, was up eight.
On the fifth hole, a par 5 that had been the easiest test of the week, Harman’s tee shot flew 249 yards and slammed into the bushes, putting him just over half the pin.
That pin was where Rahm, the reigning Masters champion, began to move forward, bunting his ball for his first birdie on Sunday. Once Harman reached the green, he missed an eventual attempt for par from 12 feet, and as the fifth hole closed for the tournament, Harman’s lead was cut to three shots.
The suspense didn’t exactly last.
He pushed it up again on the par-3 sixth hole, where he holed a birdie putt from about 14 feet, and then again at the No. 7, where he birdied from 24 feet.
Stability returned until Harman bogeyed the par 3 13th hole, which is a favorite of Royal Liverpool members. But the players closest to Harman were fast approaching the 18th green and time was running out. McIlroy, seeking his first major tournament victory since 2014, missed a birdie putt and finished at 6 under par. Tom Kim soon left the last green, still stuck at seven below zero, just as Rahm, Straka and Jason Day would be too.
Elsewhere in the course, Harman himself was getting close to turning the probable into the inevitable. He birdied the 14th hole with a putt that ran about 40 feet downhill toward the cup. Another birdie followed at No. 15, increasing his lead to six shots.
The rain kept coming. Harman kept going. A parade of defeated players headed towards the clubhouse. The engraver of the claret jug was prepared.
Soon it would be time to add Harman’s name.