Darren Clarke wins British Open Championship

Filed under: Golf |

Another fabulous round of golf saw Darren Clarke win his first major and the one he wanted to win the most… the British Open Championship by 3 shots. Darren Clarke closed in on his first major title as one American challenger after another fell by the wayside.

Phil Mickelson made an impressive charge to the lead, then faded on the back side. Dustin Johnson had another befuddling blunder in the final round of a major. Clarke, on the other hand, just kept hitting one steady shot after another, bringing little Northern Ireland to the brink of yet another championship in one of golf’s signature events.

The 42-year-old Ulsterman rolled in a 20-footer for eagle at No. 7 — not long after Mickelson had claimed a share of the lead with an eagle at the same hole — and was four strokes clear of the field with four holes left.

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell won the last two U.S. Opens. Now, it’s Clarke, who came into the week as an afterthought next to his homeland’s new stars, making a bid for major glory on another windy, wet and wild day at Royal St. George’s.

Beginning the day five strokes behind Clarke, Mickelson surged up the leaderboard with a brilliant start in gusts of more than 30 mph.

Lefty made three birdies in the first six holes, pumping his fist as the ball kept dropping in the cup. Then he rolled in a 25-footer for eagle at the seventh, moving into a share of the lead.

Clarke didn’t falter. Coming along four groups later in the final pairing, the Ulsterman rolled in a 20-foot eagle of his own at No. 7, reclaiming a two-stroke edge at 7 under.

Mickelson went out in 30 and made another birdie at the 10th, then was bitten by a familiar bugaboo: a 2-footer lipped out at the 11th to give him his first bogey. Three more bogeys coming down the stretch dropped him five shots behind Clarke.

Johnson, who played with Clarke in the final pairing, re-emerged as Clarke’s main challenger with two birdies at the beginning of the inward nine.

Then, the sort of mistake Johnson is becoming known for — from the middle of the fairway at the par-5 14th, he inexplicably knocked the ball out of bounds. That led to a double-bogey and, suddenly, Clarke’s lead had gone from a tenuous two strokes to a commanding four.

Johnson was playing in the final group at a major for the third time. At last year’s U.S. Open, he squandered a three-shot lead on the final day with an ugly 82. Then, two months later at the PGA Championship, he missed out on a playoff when assessed a debated two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole.

Mickelson, who has three Masters titles, one PGA Championship and five runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, has never been much of a factor on the other side of the Atlantic. In 17 previous Open appearances, he managed only one top-10 finish.

He came into the week saying he wanted to forget his past woes and just act like a British Open rookie. That attitude was giving him one of his most impressive performances, but it wasn’t good enough to catch the steady leader. Clarke kept rolling in clutch putts, getting out of trouble when he needed to and seemed to have the wacky British weather on his side.

Storms rolled in and out, producing drenching showers one moment, bright sunshine the next. It wasn’t usual to hit a tee shot in the rain and finish that same hole needing sunglasses.

Clarke is an old pro at links golf, so these sort of conditions were much to his liking and he didn’t seem at all bothered as he strolled along the course, taking a drag on his cigarette.

Tom Lewis, who began the week as the first amateur to hold the lead at a major in 35 years, finished with a 74 for a 289. He still finished as the low amateur, his goal coming into the week.

“This week has been amazing for me,” the 20-year-old from England said. “It was a shame the last three days. I haven’t played anywhere near as good as I had hoped. But to win the silver medal is a great honor.”

Lewis’ playing partner the first two days, 61-year-old Tom Watson, had another age-defying Open. He closed with an impressive 72 to finish at 286.

“I played pretty well,” Watson said. “A 72 on this golf course is not a bad score. It just wasn’t good enough to get close to the leaders this week.”

But, it was all about Clarke and as he entered the final two holes he had four shots to play with. He dropped a shot at the 17th and then another at the 18th but it didn’t matter one bit as he won by a score of 275 and three shots as he strolled to his first Open and the famed Claret jug as Johnson dropped a shot at the last to be joint runner up with Mickelson on a score of 278.

“I want to share it with everyone. I’m your normal everyday guy and I just want everyone to enjoy it” Clarke said of his win. Yes, Darren…we’ll be sure to do that. Fabulous achievement. Congratulations... now to the Guinness!

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