NORTHERN IRELAND’S Darren Clarke dedicated his Open victory at Royal St George’s to his children before promising to celebrate a hugely popular and emotional first Major success in the grand manner.
The 42-year-old became the oldest winner of golf’s greatest prize since 1967, carding a final round of 70 in typically testing conditions to fend off a challenge from American duo Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson and win by three shots.
Afterwards a tearful Clarke, who became the third player from Northern Ireland to win a Major in the space of 13 months, paid tribute to his two sons from his marriage to Heather, who died after a long battle against breast cancer five years ago.
“It’s for the kids,” said Clarke, who famously broke down after helping to clinch the 2006 Ryder Cup – the first event he played following Heather’s death. “They played golf at Royal Portrush this morning and were watching on TV.
“In terms of what’s going through my heart, there’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she’d be very proud of me.
“She’d probably be saying, ‘I told you so’. But I think she’d be more proud of my two boys and them at home watching more than anything else. It’s been a long journey to get here. I’m 42 and I’m not getting any younger.
“But I’ve got here in the end. It may be the only Major that I win, it may not be the only Major that I win, but at least I’ve gone out there today and did my best, and my best was good enough to win.”
Clarke was playing the 54th major of his career and had not had a top 10 finish in any of them for a decade, but did claim his 13th European Tour title in Majorca in May.
“I won six weeks ago and the more you put yourself in winning positions the more comfortable you get with it and I’ve been very comfortable with myself this week,” Clarke added.
That includes being somewhat overweight and notoriously fond of a drink – he was immediately handed a pint of Guinness in his press conference – but the Ulsterman claimed he was planning to start a diet on Monday.
“I’m on Weight Watchers tomorrow morning,” he said. “I’m at Chubby’s apartment (his manager Andrew Chandler), so I’m going eat and drink as much as I want tonight.
“I’ll probably get bored with it in a week and give up. I think this could probably be a bad week for me to try and start.
“I think there’s five points in a pint of Guinness, I think it’s a real bad week for me to start.”
His next tournament will be the Irish Open in Killarney from 28 July -31, and Clarke added: “I will be in Killarney. I may not be sober for the Irish Open, but I will be in Killarney.”
THE OPEN | FINAL LEADERBOARD
Darren Clarke (Northern Ireland) -5
Phil Mickelson (USA) -2
Dustin Johnson (USA) -2
Thomas Bjorn (Denmark) -1
Chad Campbell (USA) Par
Anthony Kim (USA) Par
Rickie Fowler (USA) Par
Raphael Jacquelin (France) +1
Sergio Garcia (Spain) +2
Simon Dyson (England) +2
Davis Love III (USA) +2
Steve Stricker (USA) +3
Martin Kaymer (Germany) +3
KEY MOMENTS | HOW THE OPEN WAS WONAAND LOST
14.39: Clarke moves to -6 with a birdie at the second hole and follows it up with a fine par-saving effort at the third.
15.03: Mickelson’s charge gathers pace with a birdie at the sixth - his third of his final round – and Clarke’s lead is cut to two shots.
15.37: Mickelson drains an eagle put at seven to gain a share of the lead but moments later Clarke responds in kind to restore his two shot cushion.
16.10: Mickelson drops his first shot of the round at the 11th – the start of a run of four bogeys in six holes – as his challenge begins to fade.
17.12: By the 14th Johnson has emerged as Clarke’s main threat, but he puts his second shot out of bounds and it’s the Ulsterman’s to lose.
18.13: With a four shot lead and two to play Clarke can afford to play it ultra safe. He makes two bogeys at 17 and 18 but it matters not one bit.