Brian Harman powers to 2023 Open Championship victory, clinching first career major

Brian Harman poses with the Claret Jug.
CNN  — 

Brian Harman won the 151st Open Championship on Sunday, sealing the first major of his career in dominant fashion.

Amid a sea of umbrellas at a rain-soaked Royal Liverpool, the American weathered a stormy start to lift the Claret Jug, finishing six shots ahead of Australia’s Jason Day, Austria’s Sepp Straka, South Korea’s Tom Kim and Spain’s Jon Rahm.

The 36-year-old had taken a commanding five-stroke lead into the final round. He rebounded from two early bogeys to card a closing one-under 70 to finish on 13-under par overall, securing him a $3 million winner’s cut of the $16.5 million prize purse.

Harman, ranked 26th in the world, had previously won twice on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 2009, but a runner-up finish at the 2017 US Open had marked the closest the Georgia-born golfer had come to winning one of the sport’s flagship events.

“I’m going to have me a few pints from this trophy, I believe,” Harman said during his winner’s interview.

“This golf course was a real test. It was set up so great, even with the weather … to all the fans, all the nice words and all the people that were back home rooting me on, I appreciate it - thank you so much.”

Harman embraces his caddie on the 18th green.

Victory in the fourth and final men’s major of the year marks the third straight win by an American after Brooks Koepka secured his third PGA Championship and Wyndham Clark won a first career major at the US Open.

McIlroy’s wait goes on

Masters champion Rahm and 21-year-old Kim will both be left to rue slow starts after the duo began the week with rounds of three-over 74.

Rory’s McIlroy’s wait for a fifth major title will tick over to a decade despite yet another strong showing on the biggest stage, as he finished tied-sixth at six-under overall with Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.

The Northern Irishman won the last time the Open was hosted at Royal Liverpool nine years ago but never looked in serious contention to repeat the feat, as he closed with a 68.

Remarkably, it marks the 34-year-old’s 20th top-10 major finish since his last major triumph at the 2014 US Open, and his third of the year after finishing tied-seventh and second at the PGA Championship and US Open respectively.

“Every time I tee it up or most times I tee it up, I’m right there,” McIlroy told reporters. “I can’t sit here and be too frustrated. You think about my performances in the majors between like 2016 and 2019, it’s a lot better than that.

“I’m optimistic about the future, and just got to keep plugging away.”

McIlroy's wait for another major endures.

Déjà vu

He said the target was 10 hours sleep, but it is difficult to imagine Harman nodded off quickly Saturday night.

To say he had nothing to gain and everything to lose may have been harsh – there are few bigger gains than a first career major – but for those who have performed brilliantly enough to build such a commanding lead heading into the final round, the cruel reality is that anything other than victory will inevitably go down as a catastrophe.

History was on Harman’s side, with nine of the last 11 players to take a minimum five-stroke lead into the final 18 holes of a major during the last four decades ultimately ending the weekend with silverware.

Yet, the two who didn’t are remembered as golf’s greatest capitulations.

Greg Norman saw a six-shot final round lead disintegrate at the 1996 Masters, while pictures of France’s Jean van de Velde stood ankle deep in the waters at a damp Carnoustie in 1999 – smiling even as his dreams of a Claret Jug and a first career major washed away – are seared into the memories of many golf fans.

As the rain hammered Hoylake on Sunday, it was hard not to feel a sense of ominous déjà vu to the Open’s most notorious implosion.

Though if Harman felt any such anxiety, it was firmly buried at the first tee as the American striped his opening drive down the first fairway before putting for par.

But as he bogeyed the second, the chasing pack were bunching in Harman’s rearview mirror, albeit from a healthy distance. Rahm became the first to break clear and turn up the heat, rolling in his first birdie of the day at the fifth to cut the lead to four.

That temperature cranked even higher moments later when Harman, playing in the group behind the Spaniard, could only bogey the same hole.

Already, the lead was down to three, and the specter of Van de Velde crept a little closer.

Rahm plays a shot on the eighth hole.

Ghostbuster

Harman quickly found ghostbusting form, and in some style. After draining a brilliant birdie putt from almost 14 feet, the world No. 26 repeated the feat from 10 feet further at the seventh hole.

Just as soon as the door had opened, it had slammed shut, as Rahm’s first bogey of the day before the turn restored Harman’s advantage to six.

It flattened the atmosphere of a damp Hoylake crowd, which had crackled with the sense of potential drama during the opening stages. Harman was more than content to play party pooper, especially after admitting to taking some “unrepeatable” heckles when paired with local favorite Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday.

Read more: Brian Harman shrugs off ‘unrepeatable’ heckles

The chasing quartet did their best to inject more tension into proceedings, but Harman was unflappable. Even when a run of five straight pars was finally broken by a bogey at the 13th, the left-hander corrected course immediately with a birdie.

Breezing through the potentially scary par-three 17th hole with par, Harman carried an umbrella and a six-shot cushion to the final tee. Even as he found a bunker, it made for a comfortable walk down the fairway as he tipped his cap to a rousing reception from the Liverpool crowds.

Having been a picture of steely concentration all afternoon, a wide smile finally broke across Harman’s before he rolled home for par and the championship.