Hoylake, UK –
Bryan Harman has repelled every challenge at the Open Championship, from big names to bad weather, to secure major champion status with a serious and unquestionable victory at Royal Liverpool on Sunday.
Harman returned a rare bogey with two consecutive birdies to put everyone else in second place. He hit an 8-foot par putt on the final hole to win by six and finished with a 1-under 70.
At 36, he is the oldest first-time major winner since Sergio Garcia won the Masters at 37 in 2017.
Garcia was no surprise. I don’t think many expected this win at the beginning of the week. Harman has played in 167 tournaments in six years since his last victory at the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. This is just his third title in his 12 years on the PGA Tour.
And the avid outdoorsman has made winning golf’s oldest championship look as easy as shooting a fish in a barrel.
Masters champion Jon Rahm birdied 70 on the final hole to tie for second with Tom Kim (67), Sepp Straka (69) and Jason Day (69).
It turned out to be a B flight.
“He won by six points so we couldn’t do anything,” said Rahm.
Herrmann took the lead on Friday morning with the second of four birdies in a row early in the second round. He never pulled away in the final 51 holes, leading five shots after the second round and five after the third.
He started the round with a bit of booing from the grandstands in the rain, but perhaps the fans were hoping for a big star or weren’t paying attention to Herrmann’s masterclass performance. Herman, who played England’s Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday, said he heard some comments that he said he could not repeat.
But he is full of Georgian grit, and rain, sun, and wind never falter.
He received a standing ovation as he walked toward the 18th green and put his hand on his chest to thank the fans as he exited the green. All that was left was to sign his card (13-under 271) and return to pick up golf’s oldest trophy, the silver claret jug.
Brian Harman, golfer of the year champion. Imagine.
“I think you can drink pints here at Trophy,” Herman said.
Even if there was no drama, the finish was adequate. Harman hit an approach from 194 yards into a pot bunker to the right of the 18th green, which was the third bunker of the 72 holes. That’s the biggest key for Royal Liverpool. And he made a putt, making just 106 for the week.
“I’ve doubled down on my process, but I know it’s boring and not flashy,” Herman said. “But I didn’t think about winning the tournament until I hit the final bunker shot.”
Early Sunday morning, in the pouring rain, I had a moment of anxiety. Harman had to take a penalty drop after driving into a gorse bush on the left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole. That led to the second bogey of the round.
Rahm had played in the front group and was eyeing one of the breaks given to major winners. His drive fell through the bushes and made a shot in front of the green for birdie.
The lead narrowed to three strokes. It didn’t stop raining. The rest of the rink was still ahead of him, with the pressure that comes with Sunday’s major.
Herrmann sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 6th and a 25-foot birdie putt on the next hole and went well.
He dropped another shot on the par 3 13th and narrowed his lead to four with five shots remaining. Then he birdied the difficult 14th from 40 feet, followed by an 8-foot birdie on the 15th.
The year ended in further disappointment for Rory McIlroy, who won last week’s Scottish Open and was the last British Open winner at Royal Liverpool in 2014. He was never a factor, but he certainly made fun of the galleries that followed.
Sunday was no exception. McIlroy, who started nine shots behind, made three birdies in a row after making a 50-foot putt on No. 3. He was within five shots and still in the front nine. Then he stalled and couldn’t get another birdie until Herrmann was on track.
McIlroy improved by one stroke each round, going 71-70-69-68, tied for sixth with Emiliano Grillo (68 RBIs). That wasn’t enough to match the kind of performance Harman delivered.
“I’m optimistic about the future and have to keep working hard,” McIlroy said. He has now appeared in 34 majors since winning his last tournament in 2014.
Last year’s runner-up at the University of St Andrews, Cameron Young, who played in the final group alongside Herman, never put the pressure on. He bogeyed on the first hole with a chip on the side of the green and missed too many putts within 10 feet.
He finished with a 73, tied for eighth with India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who had a 17-par, one birdie in the 70th round.
Herrmann, who is now on a five-year waiver at every major, joins Hoylake’s list of British Open winners alongside McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.
He could also consider returning to Europe for the Ryder Cup in Rome in September. A win worth $3 million moved him to number three on the rankings. After one month, the top six will automatically qualify.
Herrmann has never competed in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. He rose to number 10 in the world. During his four days at Royal Liverpool, he definitely did the job.