Monday, July 18, 2011

Clarke's Claret Jug

So at the 20th attempt Ulsterman Darren Clarke finally won the British Open, it was also his maiden Major Championship win. Since 2003, Tour wins have been few and far between for Clarke although he did return to form earlier this year winning the Iberdrola Open in May. His win at Royal St Georges was entirely remarkable but hugely deserved and there will not be a more popular winner of a Major this year. For Northern Ireland, they have now won 3 of the last 5 majors with 3 different golfers, a truly exceptional feat for such a small nation.
Sunday initially promised fireworks with a tightly packed field and blustery conditions. In the end it was a comfortable final few holes for Clarke who was given the luxury of being able to bogey 17 and 18 as the challenges of firstly Mickelson and then Dustin Johnson fell away.

Mickelson in particular looked the most likely to challenge after a superb 30 on the front 9. After another birdie at 10 the force seemed to be with Phil but he inexplicably let his concentration lapse at 11 to miss a tap in. This precipitated losing a further 4 strokes in the next 6 holes and the game was up. One must wonder what Mickelson could have been capable of had he looked a mite more interested on Thursday and Friday. His talents deserve a far better Open record and with no Tiger to stare him down, his excuses are few and far between.

Dustin Johnson performed admirably for the most part on Sunday with some fabulous driving in particular in testing windy conditions. His demise came on the 14th when he pushed his second shot right and out of bounds, there would be no recovery from there.

Clarke enjoyed a generous slice of luck at the 15th when he thinned his approach out of the rough before incredibly splitting the large bunkers and landing just short of the green. He played percentage golf for the remaining four holes narrowly missing out on securing four sub 70 rounds with a bogey at the last. It mattered little and the celebrations could begin. For the Irishman it had been a long road to his first Major and he joins a select band of players who have won their first one whilst in their 40s. Bob Rotella the sports psychologist that Darren Clarke had employed to help his game in the lead up to the Open will undoubtedly have a queue of professionals and rich hackers outside his door this Monday morning.

Of the rest of the field, Tomas Bjorn played some good golf without ever really seemingly giving the feeling he could win it. Campbell and Kim played some good golf with the latter surely on the path back to full fitness after horrible injury problems. Miguel Jiminez had a day to forget whilst Ricky Fowler looked entirely ridiculous but showed a good appetite and appreciation for links golf. Garcia and Davis Love showed they can still play a bit and Martin Kaymer is striving to prove he genuinely belongs at the top end of the World rankings. Tom Watson provided some wonderful moments and looks as now dear to the galleries as Jack Nicklaus once was. His putting ultimately let him down but he is a truly exceptional human being to be able to play these lengthened modern courses against players over 30 years his junior and still compete, he must have been one hell of a player in his pomp.

The Open is a truly unique test of golf, entirely unlike the target golf we see so much of on the tours these days that renders the proceedings a mere putting contest. It is a tournament that has thrown up some entirely unexpected past winners such as Paul Lawrie (of Carnoustie and Jean Van Der Velde fame) and Ben Curtis who disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Rain, wind, pot bunkers and all the vagaries of links golf ensured this was an Open to match those that had gone before. Clarke may not quite be a Woods, a Faldo, a Norman nor even a Padraig Harrington for that matter but no one would question that his win yesterday was both well deserved and long overdue. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year has also already been decided - No Nonsense.