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Darren: I am honoured to hit first shot

All smiles: Darren Clarke in a relaxed mood as he chats to the media ahead of hitting the opening tee shot at the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush on Thursday
All smiles: Darren Clarke in a relaxed mood as he chats to the media ahead of hitting the opening tee shot at the 148th Open Championship at Royal Portrush on Thursday

By Phil Casey

Darren Clarke insisted he had no hesitation in accepting an invite to hit the opening tee shot at Royal Portrush on Thursday as he reflected on the "incredible journey" which has brought The Open Championship back to Northern Ireland after an absence of 68 years.

Clarke, who owns a house overlooking the course, is scheduled to get play under way at 6.35am on Thursday alongside Amateur Championship winner James Sugrue from Mallow and American Charley Hoffman.

The 50-year-old lifted the Claret Jug at Royal St George's in 2011 but has missed the cut in three of the last four years and would be well aware of the connotations attached to being an "honorary starter".

Colin Montgomerie performed the role in 2016 at Royal Troon, where his father was club secretary for more than 20 years, while Mark O'Meara did so in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, scene of his 1998 victory, promptly drove out of bounds and struggled to an opening 81.

Clarke, who was approached three weeks ago by R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, said: "Mr Slumbers asked me if I would do them the honour of hitting the opening tee shot. It's Royal Portrush and when the R&A ask you, it's a definite yes. I said I'd love it.

"It's the first time we've been here since 1951 and he asked me to do it and I happily accepted. Sometimes it can be a good draw teeing off here at half six in the morning too. We'll see.

"Will there be tears? No. I'll just be very proud that we have it back here in Northern Ireland. It's a huge thing. It's going to be an amazing tournament. The atmosphere is going to be sensational."

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