Forget the little Claret Jug the winner of the Senior Open gets. The entire field should have been awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the face of a quite formidable foe.

Fortified by lashing rain and howling winds, the fine links of Royal Porthcawl proved to be a fearsome, unforgiving adversary. At the end of a compelling, exhausting battle on the south Wales coast, it was Germany’s Alex Cejka who emerged victorious at the second play-off hole against the gallant Padraig Harrington.

Both players finished on a five-over tally, the highest aggregate since Bob Charles won with a seven-under score 30 years ago at Royal Lytham. The prize-giving ceremony looked like a roll call on the deck of a galleon in the midst of a raging tempest.

Cejka weathered the storm, and Harrington’s bold assault, to win the Senior Open for the first time and claim his third major title among the golden oldies. On a thoroughly desperate day, those laden clouds had a silver lining for Cejka. For Harrington, it was another near miss after his runners-up finish in last year’s championship at Gleneagles.

“I think we all are glad that it's over,” gasped a relieved and jubilant Cejka. “It was a brutal week. Everybody is drained, everybody is sore. You couldn’t hold your balance, even when you were putting. You had wet hands, wet grips, there was a 40-mile-an-hour crosswind. I'm just glad I have the trophy.”

Porthcawl has always been a tremendous test. The boisterous conditions over the weekend added to the exacting examination. This was links golf in all its grisly glory. During Saturday’s third round, nobody could manage an under-par round, the first time that had happened in the championship since 2005 at Royal Aberdeen.

Nobody managed it yesterday either. The two level-par cards returned by Y.E Yang and Rob Labritz must have felt like 59s. Poor old Colin Montgomerie, meanwhile, endured a torrid day and a blizzard of bogeys and double-bogeys should have been accompanied by an amber warning from the Met Office as the 60-year-old Scot signed for an eye-watering 88 and a 22-over total.

Cejka had led by a single shot heading into the final day’s play with Harrington lurking just behind after he had eagled the last hole of his third round to up the ante in his bid to add the Senior Open to the US Senior Open crown he won last season.

The closing 18-holes made for a fascinating spectacle with guts and guile the order of the day in an absorbing battle of attrition. This was the kind of skirmish that was right up Harrington’s street but Cejka revelled in the demanding cut-and-thrust too and put in a display of sturdy, spirited resistance to keep his rival at bay. Harrington was enjoying the thrill of the chase, though, and had good chances at 16 and 17. He couldn’t take them but a bogey from Cejka on the penultimate hole opened the door. Harrington then hit a cracker of a drive on 18 and, with Cejka hoiking his way up the rough, the Irishman flighted a wonderfully executed approach into the green to set up a potentially title-winning eagle putt. The 51-year-old was a tad timorous with his effort but his birdie in a 75 was enough to force a play-off as Cejka salvaged a closing par in a 76.

Off the drookit duo went again down the 18th for the sudden-death shoot-out and both made birdies, although Harrington’s eagle attempt came within a whisker of dropping. The decisive moment arrived on the second visit down the 18th when Harrington fluffed a chip and allowed Cejka to make a two-putt birdie which sealed the deal. It was Harrington’s second play-off defeat in an over-50s major this season after losing to Steve Stricker at the Senior PGA Championship.

On the home front, Euan McIntosh was the best of the Scots in a tie for seventh after a 77 for 10-over. Paul Lawrie closed with an 81 for 13-over and shared 20th with Helensburgh veteran Gary Orr while Greig Hutcheon, a rookie on the senior circuit, had been just two shots off the lead after three rounds but an 84 saw him plummet to 33rd. It was that kind of day.