Brian Harman wins British Open in his first major: NPR

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Brian Harman celebrates on the 18th green after winning the British Open Golf Championships at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, on Sunday.

Kin Cheung/AP

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Kin Cheung/AP

Brian Harman celebrates on the 18th green after winning the British Open Golf Championships at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England, on Sunday.

Kin Cheung/AP

HOYLAKE, England – Brian Harman overturned all the challenges of the British Open, from big names to bad weather, and took his place among the major champions on Sunday with a victory that was never in doubt at Royal Liverpool.

Harman twice responded to a rare bogey with back-to-back birdies, leaving everyone else playing for second place. He closed with a 1-under 70, making an 8-foot par putt on the final hole for a six-stroke victory.

At 36, he is the oldest major winner for the first time since Sergio Garcia was 37 when he won the Masters in 2017.

Garcia was not surprised. Few would have seen this victory coming at the start of the week. Harman had played 167 tournaments over six years since his last win in the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship. This is just his third title in his 12 years on the PGA Tour.

And then the enthusiastic outdoorsman made the oldest golf tree winner look as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Masters champion Jon Rahm carded his final hole for a 70 to move into a four-way tie for second place with Tom Kim (67), Sepp Straka (69) and Jason Day (69).

That became the B plane.

“He won by six, so there’s really nothing any of us could have done,” Rahm said.

Harman took the lead Friday morning with the second of four straight birdies early in the second round. He never went over the final 51 holes, trailing by five shots after the second round and five shots after the third round.

He started the tour in the rain with big boos from the stage, fans either wanting a big star or perhaps ignoring Harman’s classy performance. Playing with England’s Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday, Harman said he heard a few comments that he described as unrepeatable.

But it is full of Georgia grit, not shaking in rain or sun or wind.

He walked up to the 18th green to a standing ovation, and held his hand to his heart to acknowledge the fans as he walked off the green. All that remained was to sign his card – 13 under 271 – and return to collect the silver claret jug, golf’s oldest trophy.

Brian Harman, Golfer of the Year. Think about that.

“I’m going to get a couple of pints out of this cup here, I believe,” Harman said.

The ending, even without any drama, was fitting. Harman hit his approach from 194 yards into a pot bunker right on the 18th green, just the third bunker he’s been in over 72 holes. That is the biggest key for Royal Liverpool. And he made the putt, giving him just 106 for the week.

“I doubled down on my process and I know it’s boring and not flashy,” Harman said. “But, until I hit that last bunker shot, I didn’t think about winning the tournament.”

There was one anxious moment early Sunday in steady rain. Harman hit his drive into a birdie bush to the left of the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole and had to take a penalty drop. This resulted in his second bogey of the round.

Rahm, playing in the group ahead, was looking to get one of those breaks that lead to major winners. His driver had landed between bushes, allowing a shot to be just short of the green and birdie.

The lead was down to three shots. The rain didn’t stop. The rest of the links, along with the pressure that comes with a Sunday at a high level, were still ahead of him.

Harman holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 sixth, a 25-foot birdie putt on the next hole and was on his way.

He dropped another shot on the par-3 13th which cut his lead to four shots with five to play. And then he birdied from 40 feet on the tough 14th, and followed it up with an 8-foot birdie on the 15th.

The year ended with more disappointment for Rory McIlroy, who won the Scottish Open last week and was the last Open champion at Royal Liverpool in 2014. He was never a factor, although he certainly mocked the large galleries that followed him.

Sunday was no exception. McIlroy started nine shots behind and reeled off three straight birdies, starting with a 50-foot putt on No. 3. He was within five shots and still on the front nine. And then he stopped, not making another birdie until Harman was well on his way.

McIlroy was one shot better each round – 71-70-69-68 – to tie for sixth place with Emiliano Grillo (68). That was nowhere near enough to match a performance like Harman’s delivered.

“I’m optimistic about the future and I’ve got to keep moving away,” said McIlroy, who has now reached a career-high 34 since winning his last major in 2014.

Cameron Young, last year’s runner-up at St Andrews, played in the final group with Harman and put no pressure on him. He hit a chip that rolled off the side of the green on the opening hole and made bogey, and he missed too many putts inside 10 feet.

He closed with a 73 and tied for eighth with India’s Shubhankar Sharma, who had 17 pars and one birdie in his round of 70.

Harman now has a five-year exemption from all majors and joins the list of Open champions at Hoylake that includes McIlroy and Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.

He can also think about returning to Europe in September for the Ryder Cup in Rome. The win, worth $3 million, moves him comfortably to No. 3 in the standings. The maximum six months from now will automatically qualify.

Harman never played in the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. He moves to No. 10 in the world. Over four days at Royal Liverpool, he certainly looked the part.

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