Belfast Telegraph

Greatest stars: Darren Clarke's Open victory was one of the most popular of all

As he strode up to the 18th green at Royal St George's, the golf fans in the stands rose to applaud him. Darren Clarke's 2011 Open Championship victory was one of the most well received in recent times.

The big Ulsterman had won a whole host of tournaments worldwide before but, without question, the pinnacle of his career came with his first major success.

And the wide smile on his face said it all... it was a proud moment for him, his family and Northern Ireland, celebrating our first Open champion in 64 years.

Many thought his chance of major glory had passed him by, but not Clarke who produced the golf of his life to see off big name rivals and take home the famous Claret jug.

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy had claimed their first major titles previously and Clarke continued the feelgood factor here with his triumph leading to that famous quote from McIlroy: "Northern Ireland - the golfing capital of the world."

It was a hugely popular success appealing to the common man because, unlike so many modern day athletes, Darren, who enjoyed a drink and a smoke and knew how to party, seemed more like them.

The 46-year-old, originally from Dungannon and now living in Portrush, has also won two World Golf Championship events, most notably the 2000 WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship when he defeated Tiger Woods in the final.

Another memorable performance came in the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club when he was one of captain Ian Woosnam's wildcard picks.

Amid emotional scenes, Clarke secured three points from three matches for the European team to help them to victory just weeks after his wife Heather had sadly passed away.

 

Belfast Telegraph

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