Clarke wins first major title at Open

The 2011 British Open has been won by a Northern Irishman but not the one everyone was expecting to hold the Auld Claret jug as the final hole was played today.

It was 42-year-old Darren Clarke, who marched to his first major victory as those around him fell away in a thrilling final round at Royal St. George’s.

Clarke remained calm in demanding conditions to post an even-par 70 to close the tournament at 5-under par, three strokes ahead of a luckless Dustin Johnson and close friend, Phil Mickelson.

“It’s been a dream since I’ve been a kid to win The Open, like any kid’s dream is, and I’m able to do it, which just feels incredible, incredible right now,” said an elated Clarke.

“We have fantastic golf courses, we have fantastic facilities, but to have three major champions from a little, small place [Northern Ireland] in a short period of time, it’s just incredible.”

Clarke, who came in to the tournament ranked outside the top world 100, became the oldest winner of the British Open since Roberto de Vicenzo won in 1967 aged 44.

Clarke began the final round with a one-shot lead over Johnson, who was keen to make amends for near-misses at both the US Open and US PGA Championship last year. However, a triple-bogey 7 at the par 4, 14th and a bogey at the 18th put paid to any hopes the American had of redemption this week.

The Northern Irishman’s closest challenge came from four-time major champion, Phil Mickelson, who started the day five shots behind Clarke.

The American reeled off four birdies and an eagle across his first 10 holes to join Clarke at the top of the leaderboard on five under.

Clarke retaliated with a 20-foot eagle putt of his own on the par-five seventh to move to 7-under and two clear of Mickelson.

Unfortunately for the world number six, what ever momentum he had built up over his opening 10 holes fell away on the run home with bogeys coming at the 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th holes.

The 41-year-old closed with a 68 and a total of two under for the tournament.

Tournament favourite McIlroy finished seven over for the tournament but the activity on his Twitter account (@McIlroyRory) suggests he was not too upset with the final result – “And the winner of the gold medal, the champion golfer of the year, from northern Ireland DARREN CLARKE!!!!!” and “Northern Ireland…… Golf capital of the world!!”.

While the opening two days of the tournament provided a glimmer of hope for an Aussie charge, it was not to be.

Adam Scott opened with rounds of 69 and 70 but a 73 and 75 over the weekend left in equal 25th at 7-over.

Richard Green continued his recent good form, closing the tournament as the best Australian at +5 in equal 16th.

World number eight, Jason Day finished T30, Robert Allenby T48 and Matthew Millar T63.