Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Clarke stunned by Irish winning run

Darren Clarke

New Open champion Darren Clarke is at a loss to explain how tiny Northern Ireland has suddenly produced an amazing three major winners in 13 months - after one in the previous 149 years.

Fred Daly stood alone until Graeme McDowell landed the US Open last summer, but then 22-year-old Rory McIlroy took the same trophy last month and now Clarke has the Claret Jug.

"It's just incredible," said the 42-year-old after becoming the oldest winner of The Open since 1967 and before launching into celebrations likely to be still in full flow when he plays in next week's Irish Open. "We're blessed to have two fantastic players in Rory and G-Mac and I'm just the old man coming along behind them. It's fantastic, just brilliant for home."

McIlroy's eight-shot triumph in Washington was a hard act to follow, but it was not the shock that this was. Clarke came to Sandwich ranked 111th in the world and without a top-10 finish in a major for a decade.

With his last Ryder Cup appearance five years ago - it was the tear-jerking win in Dublin a mere six weeks after his wife Heather died of breast cancer - many looked on him as more of a mentor to McIlroy than the man to keep European golf on its current high.

But in his 20th Open, and 54th major, Clarke beat Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson by three. Only two players - 45-year-old Jerry Barber in the 1961 US PGA and 44-year-old Robert De Vicenzo in the 1967 Open - have won their first majors at an older age.

There were times, especially after his two sons Tyrone and Conor were left motherless, that he doubted this day would ever arrive.

He is engaged again now, to a former Miss Northern Ireland, but said: "In terms of what's going through my heart there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above. I know she'd be very proud of me. She'd probably be saying 'I told you so'. But I think she'd be more proud of my two boys. It's been a long journey.

"If I hadn't won I could still have said I did my best. I ask my two boys to do their best and I can't ask for any more, so I think their dad should try and do the same.

"Bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times. I've always been pretty hard on myself when I fail because I don't find it very easy to accept that. There's times I've been completely and utterly fed up with the game, but friends and family say 'get out there and practice and keep going'. That's why I'm sitting here now."

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