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Why Darren Clarke couldn't be blamed for swift exit after agonising missed cut at The Open

Ideal headgear for a soggy Sunday...
Ideal headgear for a soggy Sunday...
A full house enjoyed an enthralling first day at The Open Championship.
Danielle McCarthy, Marie McNeela, Lily McNeela, Ayda-Grace McCarthy (2), Iain McCarthy, Harris McCarthy (5), and Cohen McCarthy (7) enjoy the golf at Royal Portrush. Click through the images to see the best shots from the the third round at The Open. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Robert, George (4), and Kelly McFarland. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Pako Pim, Erin Pim (11), and Lesley Pim. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Chairperson of the ILGU Clodagh Hopkins, Dermot Furey, and President of the ILGU Brigid McCaw. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Mike Liall, Martin Roberts, Roy Pritchard from New Zealand, and Freddie Buxton. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Pako Pim, Erin Pim (11), and Lesley Pim. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Suzanna, Michelle, and Gavin (aged 6) Higgins. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Pacemaker - Belfast - -20/07/2019. Graeme Mc Dowellat The 148th Open at Royal Portrush Third round Saturday Photo Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker Press
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Douglas and Lewis (aged 4) Band. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Russell and Bernie McKenna, with Darragh, Sophie, and Tadhg McKenna. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: DUP Leader Arlene Foster with Wilma Erskine, secretary and manager of Royal Portrush Golf Club. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Pako Pim, Erin Pim (11), and Lesley Pim. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Derek Maguire, Leanne Courtney, Caroline Courtney, Chris Courtney and Gerry Maguire. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Kevin McGuigan, Kian McGuigan,(aged 5), Ella McGuigan (aged 5), and Fergal McGuigan. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Suzanna, Michelle, and Gavin (aged 6) Higgins. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Suzanna, Michelle, and Gavin (aged 6) Higgins. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th July 2019 Pictured: Russell and Bernie McKenna, with Darragh, Sophie, and Tadhg McKenna. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
A view across the 6th and 8th greens during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Large crowds follow Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell on the 2nd green during day four of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 21, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Large crowds gather around the 2nd green during day four of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday July 21, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: The scoreboard is pictured during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
England's Callum Shinkwin tees off the 1st during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
A spectator walks the course during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: A general view of the 18th green during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The scoreboard is updated during the third round of the British Open golf Championships at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 20, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: Tyrrell Hatton of England watches his shot from the third tee during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: Tony Finau of the United States walks on the third hole during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Actor James Nesbitt watches the action during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: Richard Sellers/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
Spain's Sergio Garcia putts at the 17th hole during the third round of the British Open golf Championships at Royal Portrush golf club in Northern Ireland on July 20, 2019. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USEPAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: J.B. Holmes of the United States walks onto the first tee during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
England's Justin Rose tees off the 6th during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
England's Lee Westwood tees off the 6th during day three of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 20, 2019. See PA story GOLF Open. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. Still image use only. The Open Championship logo and clear link to The Open website (TheOpen.com) to be included on website publishing.
PORTRUSH, NORTHERN IRELAND - JULY 20: A general view over the eighth hole during the third round of the 148th Open Championship held on the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club on July 20, 2019 in Portrush, United Kingdom. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

He didn't hang around, and nobody was blaming him.

Handshakes all round, a quick wave to the crowd and he was gone. Out the back exit of the grandstand at the 18th green.

There's a mixed zone set up for the media where players give their thoughts after their rounds and it was packed on Thursday - he couldn't bear to go through that again knowing what questions would be coming.

A bogey down the last would have done it for him. Instead, he drove it into one of the fairway bunkers, took two to get out of it and then proceeded to three-putt from 30-feet for a triple-bogey seven to finish three-over par for the tournament.

He didn't wait around for his status for the weekend to be confirmed - he didn't need it to be, nor did he want it to be. Missing the cut at an Open, the first Open to be held at your home course in 68 years, in that manner is gut-wrenching.

This will be a week that Darren Clarke will never forget, but it will be a week that he will also so desperately wish he could.

This was meant to be his week, the week that he got to play in an Open in front of his home fans that he never ever thought he would get the chance to. The week that he would see all that hard work in the background pay off as he endeavoured to bring The Open back to Portrush.

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Were he to compete, it would have been a bonus, with the expectation being that he would walk triumphantly down the 18th fairway on the Friday and doff his cap having enjoyed two rounds at Portrush.

But then the entire narrative changed when he birdied three of his opening five holes on Thursday.

Excitement overtook reality - thoughts of Clarke, at 50 years of age, potentially winning his home Open ran rampant. Was this the start of a man possessed by the thrill of playing on home links defying all logic to recreate the kind of play he had during the 2011 Open?

Triple heartache: Darren Clarke walks off the 18th green after three-putting for a seven
Triple heartache: Darren Clarke walks off the 18th green after three-putting for a seven

Understandably, his level wouldn't stay at a high enough standard to maintain that three-under start, but even so, to card a level par 71 in his opening round was beyond anybody's wildest expectations.

And perhaps that's why, sitting here now, it stings all the more.

The key lay in Friday's round. Anybody can play one good round, now it was about being able to play two in as many days.

For a long time, it looked like the answer was he could, and only when he needed his game to stand up to the tests of time the most was the real answer 'no'.

He'd had chances to kill off any lingering fears of missing the cut too. At the second hole he missed from four feet for birdie, while at the seventh he also saw a birdie putt slide wide from five feet. When he compounded the latter with bogeys at the ninth and 10th, the fears grew.

But then as soon as they had arisen, they disappated. He birdied the 12th, and then the 15th for the second day in a row.

At this stage the bogey he'd thrown in in the middle at the 14th was nothing more than a footnote in a great story - one of the sons of Ulster golf, the most unfancied of the three, was strolling into the final round of The Open at Royal Portrush.

The stage was set. Pars came at 16 and 17, two holes that seemingly plagued the rest of the field but never scared Clarke. All he had to do was play the last in five strokes or less and he would be preparing for Saturday and two more walks down 18.

But then sport's never that easy, is it?

Perhaps he should have taken iron off the tee and ensured he found the fairway, but would that have then made the approach to the green all the trickier? Should he have aimed further down the left and avoided the bunkers altogether, but risk bringing out of bounds into play?

Either way, it doesn't change what happened. The scorecard for the two days reads three-over, and that's not good enough to make the weekend.

It seemed like, for four days, he was going to roll back the clock and prove he was still the same player who put Northern Irish golf on the map before McIlroy and McDowell emerged.

And now, at this stage, all the hurt of his career comes flooding back in a tsunami of emotion - the likes of losing the '95 Portuguese Open play-off, the '97 Open and the '04 WGC-Match Play.

This one might just hurt more than all of them combined.

Belfast Telegraph

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