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  • Alistair Tait

This Funny Old Game Of Golf

Hands up if you thought Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy would each possess just one claret jug at this point in golf history? Thought so.

Still hard to believe Clarke won the Open Championship 10 years ago at Royal St George’s. It's perhaps even harder to believe Rory’s still waiting for his second.

Clarke’s success at the age of 42 should give Rory hope that he has lots of time to get his hands on the auld claret jug a second time, or a third, or fourth or ….

Royal St George’s has thrown up a few unlikely Open champions: Jack White in 1904, Reg Whitcombe in 1938, Bill Rogers in 1981, Ben Curtis in 2003. Clarke might have at one time been considered a likely champion in the image of other St George’s winners like JH Taylor, Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Sandy Lyle and Greg Norman, but he wasn’t considered to be a factor 10 years ago. He was 28-1 to finish low Irishman in a quartet that included McIlroy, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell. Yet Clarke stood on the 72nd hole with the claret jug.

Earlier that year, Clarke shot 81 and 75 in the final two rounds of the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco to finish 77th of the 78 players who made the cut. Clarke was so despondent he contemplated quitting the game. Manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler told Clarke to take a holiday. After three weeks in the Bahamas, the Ulsterman returned to the fairways and won the Iberdrola Open in Spain and then went on to become Champion Golfer of the Year.

Dr Bob Rotella helped Clarke get out of his own way to get back on the victory trail.

“Darren had been getting more and more frustrated,” Rotella said. “He got tied up in knots. I told him I just wanted him to look at where he wanted to hit it and hit it. He had the skills. It was a question of unfreezing them.”

Rory looked like he was tied up in knots and frustrated after the third round. He played the front nine in 31 to come within a sniff of perhaps contending today, only to come home in 38.

“Sort of a tale of two nines,” McIlroy said. “I played great on the front nine, hit some really good iron shots and converted some putts and really got it going.
“Then the back nine played tough.
“It was encouraging to see some of the golf that I played on that front nine.
“It's just a matter of trying to keep that going and try to turn those nine-hole stretches into 18-hole stretches, and then those 18-hole stretches into whole tournaments. It's getting there.”

Maybe, but McIlroy sounded a despondent figure. He will play today’s final round in the knowledge his wait for another Open Championship win, and a fifth major victory, will stretch into an eighth year since he won the 2014 PGA Championship to go with winning that year’s Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

He can take heart from his countryman. Clarke is further proof, if any were needed, that anything can happen in this funny old game of golf.

#JustSaying: “I have to admit Darren wasn’t on my list of likely winners at the start of the week, and I don’t think he was on anyone’s probably.” Former R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson

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