Like Tiger Woods two years earlier, Padraig Harrington successfully defended his title, becoming the first European to do so at The Open since James Braid in 1906.
This was a more comfortable occasion than his play-off win at Carnoustie and after an eagle at the 17th, thanks to a 5-wood from 249 yards to three feet, he was able to enjoy a celebratory walk up the 18th fairway on the way to winning by four strokes from Ian Poulter.
“I’m holding on to this,” he said cradling the Claret Jug. “I had a great year as Open Champion, so much so I didn’t want to give it back.”
Amazingly, Harrington almost had to withdraw after injuring his right wrist while swinging his driver into a bean bag the previous weekend. If it helped to dampen expectations, the gales that battered Birkdale throughout the week also helped Harrington maintain his concentration.
What the conditions required were some wily know-how of links golf and double Champion Greg Norman provided just that. The 53-year-old had not played in a major for three years and was still on honeymoon following his wedding to tennis star Chris Evert.
Yet Norman was a stroke off the lead after the first two rounds and after a 72 in the 30mph-plus wind of Saturday put him two clear of Harrington and KJ Choi. The romantic tale could not last and he closed with a 77, though he briefly regained the lead when Harrington had three bogeys in a row to end the front nine.
Norman finished in third place with Henrik Stenson, two behind Poulter and one ahead of Jim Furyk and Chris Wood, a 20-year-old from Bristol who won the Silver Medal and had the best finish by an amateur since Justin Rose’s fourth place in 1998.