Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke wins British Open

Darren Clarke
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke stretches before teeing off during round three of the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich
Darren Clarke with Alison Campbell. 'Everything is fantastic at the moment,' he says

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke today became the oldest winner of the Open Championship since 1967 with a brilliant final round at Royal St George's.

Clarke took a one-shot lead into the last day and repelled the challenge of American pair Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with a closing 70 in tough conditions.

The 42-year-old's five-under-par total of 275 left him three clear of Mickelson (68) and playing partner Johnson (72), and continued the remarkable story of Irish success in the last four years.

After Dubliner Padraig Harrington's back-to-back Opens and a US PGA title as well, Graeme McDowell captured the US Open last year and then compatriot Rory McIlroy succeeded him last month.

Now their fellow Ulsterman Clarke, playing the 54th major of his career but without a top 10-finish in them for a decade, has finally claimed the Claret Jug denied him in 1997 by a closing 65 from American Justin Leonard.

Clarke set a new record by winning the Open at his 20th attempt, while only dropped shots at the last two holes prevented him from becoming just the sixth player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in championship history.

He had to save par from 18ft at the first after leaving a nervous first putt well short, but birdied the next from five feet and recovered from a bogey at the fourth in style with an eagle from 20ft on the par-five seventh.

That took him back to two ahead of Mickelson, who had eagled the same hole 25 minutes earlier on his way to a brilliant front nine of 30, but the left-hander cut the gap to one with another birdie on the 10th.

Mickelson's challenge ended with four dropped shots in the next six holes and it was left to Johnson to take up the fight with birdies at 10 and 12.

However, the 27-year-old again proved susceptible to pressure - he took a three-shot lead into the final round of last year's US Open but shot 82 - by carving his second shot out of bounds on the par-five 14th to run up a double-bogey seven.

That left Clarke with plenty of breathing space and he could afford to bogey the last two holes and still claim an impressive victory.

DARREN CLARKE FACTFILE

1968: Born Dungannon, Northern Ireland, August 14

1990: Becomes Spanish amateur champion and Irish amateur champion before turning professional

1992: Scores a European Tour record-equalling round of 60 in Monte Carlo.

1993: Claims his first European Tour win at the Alfred Dunhill Open. Goes on to finish eighth on the Order of Merit.

1996: Secures his second Tour victory at the German Masters and again finishes eighth on the Order of Merit.

1997: Runner-up at the Open to Justin Leonard, but goes on to make his Ryder Cup debut and end the year fourth on the Order of Merit.

1998: European Tour victories at the Benson & Hedges International Open and the Volvo Masters help him finish second on the Order of Merit.

1999: Completes another round of 60 this time at the K Club. Later in the year he wins the English Open and goes on to make his second Ryder Cup appearance.

2000: Beats Tiger Woods in the final of WGC-Accenture Match Play and then retains his English Open title in June.

2001: Finishes third in the Open Championship, but lifts titles in South Africa, Ireland and Japan

2002: Wins his third English Open title and makes his third Ryder Cup appearance.

2003: Wins WGC-NEC Invitational in Akron and finishes runner-up on the Order of Merit.

2004: A fourth Ryder Cup appearance is followed by a second career title in Japan at the Taiheiyo Masters.

2005: Successfully defends his Taiheiyo Masters crown.

2006: Makes an emotional fifth appearance at the Ryder Cup, just six weeks after his wife Heather dies of breast cancer. Clarke won all three of his games at the K Club to help Europe claim victory.

2008: Ends almost five years without a European Tour win by lifting the KLM Open title.

2010: Named non-playing Ryder Cup vice-captain for Europe's victorious campaign.

2011: July 17 - Wins The Open Championship at Royal St George's at the 20th attempt.

Irish eyes are smiling at the Open

By Mark Garrod

Four years ago no Irish golfer had won a major since Fred Daly in the 1947 Open.

How times have changed. Padraig Harrington won three of the next six, then Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, both from north of the border like Daly, won back-to-back US Opens and now Darren Clarke has joined them.

Here is a look back at the major triumphs:

2007 OPEN - Harrington is six behind Sergio Garcia with a round to go at Carnoustie and after charging into contention double bogeys the last.

Garcia, though, bogeys it to fall into a tie and the Dubliner birdies the first extra hole, then holds on.

"I never let myself think I had just thrown away the Open on the 18th," he said.

2008 OPEN - Harrington, doubtful beforehand because of a wrist injury, plays a brilliant back nine highlighted by an eagle on the 17th for a four-shot win over Ian Poulter at Birkdale.

He is the first European to retain the title since James Braid in 1906.

"It's a lot shinier than I remember," he says of the trophy he had handed back at the start of the week.

2008 US PGA - Garcia and Harrington go head-to-head again at Oakland Hills and the result is the same as Europe's 78-year wait for a winner of the title is ended.

Harrington birdies the 17th - Garcia was closer and then missed - and a 15-footer at the last secures victory.

"I'm actually disappointed I'm seven months away from the next major," he said.

2010 US OPEN - Tony Jacklin was the last European winner of the trophy in 1970 and with Dustin Johnson three clear at Pebble Beach after 54 holes it does not look good again.

But Johnson has an early triple and double bogey, crashes to an 82 and world number 37 McDowell holds his nerve.

"Careers are defined by major championships and my career's off and running today," he comments.

2011 US OPEN - Two months after a closing 80 when four ahead at The Masters McIlroy starts at Congressional with a 65.

From three in front he goes six clear with a 66, then eight ahead with a 68, setting 36-hole and 54-hole records.

No nightmare this time, the trophy goes straight back to Northern Ireland.

"At Augusta it was all a bit new to me. I have a clear mind now," says the 22-year-old.

2011 OPEN - English amateur Tom Lewis and 2003 Sandwich runner-up Thomas Bjorn lead after opening with 65s, but at halfway it is Clarke and American Lucas Glover out in front.

A Saturday 69, one of only three sub-70 scores in the wind and rain, leaves Clarke one ahead and at the 20th attempt he becomes Open champion.

"The Open is the biggest and best tournament in the world. Nineteen times I've failed, now I've won - it's a dream come true," he said.

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