A Visual Embrace of the Claret Jug
Darren Clarke’s masterful ball striking helped him close with a proficient even par 70 in very blustery conditions at Royal St. Georges on Sunday to win the Open Championship and reiterate the dominance of Northern Ireland in golf’s majors. The mouse has roared again, this is the third Ulsterman to win a major in the last 13 months which means that stocks of Guiness will be tapped as celebration will continue for weeks across the northern part of the Emerald Isle. The “Chubby Slam” for 2011 is still in tact as Clarke’s win along with McIlroy at the U.S. Open and Schwartzel at The Masters make it three in a row for the outgoing Chubby Chandler who represents all three. There will be a whole lot of Englishman pulling for Lee Westwood to finish that job at the PGA next month.
The windy conditions were similar to Saturday-only six players broke par in the final round. Darren’s formula was great ball striking, more than adequate putting, and a cerebral mastery of the tactics of links golf over the four days. Clarke hit an average of 13 of 18 greens over the tournament-3 better than the field and had just under 30 putts a round-striking the ball beautifully in a two to three flap wind the last two days. His putting at 29.75 per round was better than average but he made all the 5 to 10 footers that mattered on Sunday and just did not give his close pursuers much hope at all. Most important, he avoided the high score all week-only one double bogey over the 72 holes-he was just masterful at managing his mistakes in course conditions that had blow up holes lurking around every corner.
Phil Mickelson applied the pressure early with a scintillating 6 under over the first 10 holes. But Clarke had an answer for every surge and really made a statement when he rolled in an eagle putt on the 7th hole to answer Mickelson’s eagle earlier on the same hole. Dustin Johnson was playing with Clarke and he too mounted a charge on the middle holes but a wayward long iron into the course next door on the par 5 14th slammed the door on his chances and it was a dexterous cake walk the rest of the way home for the Irishman.
Much has been documented about Darren Clarke’s personal and golf tribulations over the last decade, so this first major for him is a very sweet moment indeed. For those who think this comes from left field don’t forget that he has 14 European Tour wins and two World Golf Championships under his belt, including beating Tiger Woods in the Accenture Match Play final back in 2000. This is a passionate guy who enjoys his golf and you could see the special delight in his face over the final four holes of the championship when victory was within reach.
They may be bottling fresh spring Portrush water for international sale shortly-it is clear that Ponce De Leon turned his ship the wrong way when he was looking for the fountain of youth, it is just off the northern most coast of Northern Ireland.