Darren Clarke the forty one year-old from Northern Ireland has today won his first major. It was the most glorious of champagne moments in golf and fittingly Clarke suggested that he will be “very, very hungover” come tomorrow morning, and quite right too.
It was a display of class, maturity and real links skill from start to finish and ultimately Clarke more than deserved his victory, which, as it turned out came surprisingly easily by the time he reached the home stretch.
Whilst he plodded on merrily churning out par saving putts and knocking in the occasional birdie and eagle the other immediate challengers fell away and some more dramatically than others.
From start to finish the likes of Jimenez, Glover, Kaymer, McIlroy and Fowler steadily slipped further and further behind the dominant Northern Irishman. The majority of the afore mentioned had pieced together three consecutively impressive rounds, but today they all missed the mark. Conditions were in truth probably easier going than the apocalyptic coastal climate experienced in Sandwich yesterday but this didn’t seem to help the pre-round contenders.
Sadly only three men really threatened to seriously endanger Darren’s charge to Open Sunday glory. The first of these was Thomas Bjorn who until the last couple of holes maintained a score of around three-under par. Though he never made a forward charge as such he managed to just hang in there and prove a potential irritation, just about staying within striking range if anything were to go badly wrong for Clarke coming home.
The second maintained challenge came from Clarke’s final group partner Dustin Johnson. For a long time Dustin was biding his time, not shifting his score too dramatically in either direction until just after the turn where he conjured up two birdies in three holes.
These flashes of genius were then backed up by a fantastic drive and approach to 13 where he looked odds-on to steal another and move to six-under. At this very moment Clarke had over-cooked his approach to the same green and had a daunting up-and-down left for his par. This for many was the moment Clarke secured a grip on the Claret Jug, Clarke made his up-and-down and Johnson’s putt lagged short of the hole. From looking like they were about to have parity restored, Clarke walked to the 14th with a two shot lead still in tact. Perhaps with this missed opportunity in mind Johnson smashed his second shot on the par five 14th way out of bounds and took his challenge out of the reckoning.
The final challenge for Clarke, and perhaps the most threatening was that of Phil Mickelson. ‘Lefty’ produced a simply stunning front 9 consisting of just thirty blows. The only complaint he could possibly have had was that a couple of putts lipped out, otherwise he could have even produced something like a twenty eight.
This special nine holes of golf saw Phil level up with Clarke on five-under par. He had him in his sights and seemed ready to blow him away down the back nine also. But this was not to be.
Having lipped out another birdie putt at 10, Mickelson then missed an absolute sitter to save his par at the par three 11th. This lapse in concentration came at roughly the same time as Clarke’s majestic eagle at 7, and with it the seriousness of his challenge begun to die away.
These major challengers came and went and with a couple of strokes of luck Clarke saw things through. Even amidst the pressure of seeing the likes of Mickelson shooting up the leader board he remained breezy. For the majority of the final day his face was adorned with the widest of Irish grins, in the great moments he remained positive and when the bogey’s came he took them with a pinch of salt. He was calmness personified throughout.
A great day for golf and golfers alike. Clarke has always been an immensely likeable character and is known to be one of the more popular players on tour. Finally twenty years of plying his trade in the upper echelons of the golfing world and several years of personal unrest must seem worth it. He has until recently endured an immense test of character following the untimely and tragic death of his wife Heather and to see him happy again is a treat. This was a victory which very few could begrudge.