Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Clarke’s dream comes true at The Open

IRISH EYES ARE SMILING:Darren Clarke became Northern Ireland’s third major winner in just over a year following Graeme McDowell’s and Rory McIlroy’s US Open victories

Reuters, SANDWICH, ENGLAND

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke sits next to the Claret Jug at a press conference after he won The Open at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, England, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Darren Clarke repelled a dynamic charge from Phil Mickelson to complete a runaway three-shot win at The Open on Sunday, claiming his first major title and becoming the first home winner of the championship for 12 years.

The 42-year-old Briton picked up the coveted Claret Jug, a first prize of £900,000 (US$1.45 million) and an extra bonus of £2 million from his kit sponsor after firing a level-par 70 on Sunday to finish five-under.

He also becomes the 12th different winner of the last 12 majors as the US missed out for an unprecedented sixth time in a row.

US Ryder Cup teammates Mickelson (68) and Dustin Johnson (72) were tied for second place, while Denmarl’s Thomas Bjorn (71), denied victory by a sad, late collapse when the event was last played at Sandwich in 2003, was fourth on 279.

“It’s been a dream since I was a kid to win The Open and I was able to do it,” said Clarke, who could even afford to finish with two bogeys such was his dominance of the field. “It just feels incredible. I’ve been unbelievably comfortable and confident in my own ability this week.”

“This is for my two kids, they’ll be very proud,” he added, before acknowledging his late wife Heather, who died of cancer in 2006.

Clarke, the overnight leader, looked nerveless at the start even though he canceled out an early birdie at the second by dropping a stroke at the fourth.

Puffing calmly on a cigarette, seemingly oblivious to the 55kph winds and the squally showers whistling in from the English Channel, the Northern Irishman was unperturbed by Mickelson’s front-nine charge.

The American left-hander, who had just one top 10 finish in 17 previous Open appearances, showed he meant business by blitzing his way to a remarkable best-of-the-tournament front nine of 30.

Ignoring the strongest winds of the week at Royal St George’s, Mickelson drew level with Clarke at the seventh hole when he rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt.

Clarke, his gray trousers billowing furiously in the breeze, hit back immediately with a matching eagle at the same hole after sinking a 25-footer.

World No. 6 Mickelson’s round then started to spectacularly unravel when he inexplicably missed from two feet at the 11th.

The putter continued to let down the four-time major champion and he missed from seven feet at the 12th and eight feet at the 14th as his challenge petered out.

While Mickelson was stringing together a series of bogeys, Clarke reeled off nine straight pars to the 16th and he could afford to smile as he dropped strokes at the last two holes en route to becoming the first home winner since Paul Lawrie’s victory at Carnoustie in 1999.

In addition, he became Northern Ireland’s third major winner in just over a year following the back-to-back US Open victories of Graeme McDowell last year and Rory McIlroy last month.

“We’re blessed to have two fantastic players in Rory and G-Mac and I’ve just come along, the old guy, behind them,” said Clarke, whose win rocketed him from 111th in the world rankings into the top 30.

“I think we’ve just been lucky [in Northern Ireland]. To have three major champions from a small, little place in a short period of time is fantastic.”

Clarke, playing in The Open for the 20th time, his 54th major, broke the record for most appearances in the championship before securing a debut win.

He is also the oldest winner since Argentine Roberto Di Vicenzo triumphed in the 1967 Open at the age of 44 and the oldest major champion since American Ben Crenshaw’s 1995 US Masters success at the age of 43.

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