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Clarke and McIlroy on top of world

The prizes keep coming for Northern Ireland’s top golfers as Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy were both winners at last night’s Laureus world sports awards.

Clarke was awarded the ‘comeback of the year’ award for winning the Open Championship at the age of 42, while his fellow Ulsterman McIlroy won the ‘breakthrough of the year’ gong after lifting the US Open.

Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic added to his ever-growing trophy cabinet by winning the Laureus ‘world sportsman of the year’ award.

But it was also a special night for the Ulster duo who have captured the admiration of golfing fans.

In July, Clarke kept his nerve to clinch his maiden major title with a three-shot victory in the Open at Royal St George's.

It was a fairytale performance and the realisation of a dream for the Dungannon man who many said was ‘past it’ and would never win a major.

But Clarke showed remarkable composure in the wind and rain to silence the critics and become only the second Northern Irishman to win the Open after Fred Daly in 1947.

Fresh from winning the Belfast Telegraph Sports Star of the Year gong, the Laureus award is another acknowledgement of that triumph against all the odds.

It seems strange to mention the words ‘McIlroy’ and ‘breakthrough’ in the same sentence but the 22-year-old certainly displayed his class at Congressional Country Club in June when he became the 2011 US Open champion.

His Augusta National collapse two months earlier had many critics doubting his winning mentality but the boy wonder not only won the US Open — he thrashed the opposition.

European golf’s new kid on the block hit a record low score of 268, 16 under par to win by a margin of eight shots.

It was a performance acknowledged by many as the greatest in the tournament's history.

But the spotlight last night belonged to tennis sensation Djokovic who enjoyed a stellar 2011, clinching the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open grand slam titles.

The Serbian world number one collected his latest gong at the glittering ceremony in London which was attended by luminaries from the sporting world such as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, former Ajax and Barcelona star Johan Cruyff, and five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave.

Djokovic beat off competition from cyclist Cadel Evans, sprinter Usain Bolt, Barcelona football star Lionel Messi and F1 world

champion Sebastian Vettel to land the prize.

Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton was given the lifetime achievement award and ‘Blade Runner’ athlete Oscar Pistorius won the Laureus disability award after becoming the first amputee to win a track medal in a non-disabled World Championships — a silver in the 4x400metre relay.

Champions League winners Barcelona were named Laureus team of the year while Kenyan long-distance runner Vivian Cheruiyot took home the sportswoman of the year award.

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Sir Bobby Charlton yesterday underwent minor surgery after being taken ill before the Laureus World Sports Awards.

The 74-year-old World Cup-winner had been due to receive an award but left London after starting to feel unwell yesterday and needed a minor operation understood to be to remove a gallstone.

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