MANY people predicted a Northern Irishman would win the 2011 British Open but few thought it would be the oldest one.
It was supposed to be an Open Championship for the young guns, chief among them Clarke’s 22 year old countryman Rory McIlroy.
Compatriot Graeme McDowell also got a few mentions but the 42 year old Clarke was under the radar.
The Ulsterman’s five-under-par three shot win means it a little over 12 months that relatively small part of the world has captured three of the six golfing majors on offer.
It must be something in the water, or maybe it’s the Guinness.
“They’re probably all getting pissed,” Clarke said of the inhabitants of his hometown of Portrush. “If they’re not, I hope they are. They’re having parties all the time – a party for ‘G Mac’ (McDowall) and a party for Rory a couple of weeks ago (For thier US Open wins), and I’m sure I’ll have another one this week.”
Clarke, the oldest Open winner in 44 years, aid he’d certainly be using the Claret Jug as a Guinness receptacle in long celebrations at the Royal St George’s Golf Club clubhouse.
In a final round rocked by waves of foul weather, Clarke held his nerve as the challengers around him fell away.
Joint runners up Phil Mickelson (71) and Dustin Johnson (72) had their opportunities but both succumbed to the testing conditions.
Mickelson mounted a compelling challenge drawing level with the leader at one stage during his front nine but a missed two foot putt on the 11th was a crucial turning point.
The big hitting Johnson also had his chances but was always one or two behind and when his approach shot on the 15th sailed out of bounds it was effectively all over.
It’s been a dream since I’ve been a kid to win the Open
Clarke just had to hold it together – he did have the help of not one but two sports psychologists prior to the event (we’d love to know what Bob Rotella was saying to him during a long conversation as he warmed up) – over the final few holes.
A hugely popular winner, Clarke said he had traversed a “long bumpy road” to get to the winner’s presentation. His wife Helen died five years ago.
“There’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she’d be very proud of me,” Clarke said of his late wife. “She’d probably be saying ‘I told you so’. It’s been a dream since I’ve been a kid to win the Open.”
Clarke’s previous best was two World Golf Championship titles, including a head to head win in 2000 against a Tiger Woods in his prime.
He came into the tournament well outside the world top 100 rankings and without a top 10 finish in a Major for more than 10 years.
6 Americans in top 10
Previous observations on the scarcity of American flags at the top of recent Major leaderboards and hand wringing about the death of golf in the US have proved premature, with 6 Americans in the top 10 and 8 in the top 12.
After Mickelson and Johnson tied for second there was Dane Thomas Bjorn (71) fourth at one-under, Americans Chad Campbell (69), Anthony Kim (70) and Rickie Fowler (72) sharing fifth position at even par, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin (69) alone at eighth, Davis Love 111 (US, 72), Sergio Garcia (ESP, 68) and Simon Dyson (ENG, 70) at T9 and Americans Steve Stricker (71) and Lucas Glover (74) tied for 12th with Germany’s Martin Kaymer (73).
Australians bow out
The expected Australian challenge went pear-shaped with Richard Green the best placed finisher with a final round 71 putting him tied for 16th with five others.
Adam Scott started the day the best placed Aussie and with dreams, he later admitted, of firing the round of his life to take his first major. Those dreams had evaporated by the 9th.
After a final round 72 put him tied for 30th Jason Day conceded he had a lot to learn about playing links golf, and in his quietly determined manner, there’s not doubt he will. He’ll be back.
Robert Allenby briefly went to two-under before fading with a 76 to finish toed for 48th and Canberra’s Matthew Millar (73) was equal 63rd.2011 British Open Leaderboard