Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke made it back-to-back major golf championships for his native country, holding off big final-day challenges from a pair of Americans, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, winner of four grand-slam majors of his own, to garner the coveted Claret Jug as the winner of the 140th Open Championship.
It's been at least a decade since the 42-year-old Clarke has found himself in contention in a major championship, but he showed no signs of any of that the last four days at Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Sandwich, England. Clarke began the day with a one-shot lead over Johnson and three-strokes better than Rickie Fowler of the U.S. and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who won The Open (formerly known as the British Open) the last time the championship was played at Royal St. Georges.
Mickelson began Sunday's round, five shots back of Clarke, but quickly erased the difference and actually moved into a share of the lead with an eagle at the 564-yard par-five seventh hole. But when Clarke played the seventh, he scored an eagle of his own, to regain the lead. Mickelson lost some steam on the back nine, finishing with a two-under 68 for the day and a four-round total of 278, tied with Johnson, three strokes off Clarke's championship pace.
Johnson was just two shots back of Clarke when he made a critical mistake, hitting his second shot out of bounds on the 14th hole. The 27-year-old South Carolinian ended up with a double bogey on the hole, effectively ending his chances to win his first major championship.
Clarke is third of his countrymen to win a major golf championship in the past 13 months. Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open Championship in June this year and Graeme McDowell won the same event a year earlier.
"I always believed I would get myself back up here," said an exuberant and relieved Clarke after winning his first golf major today. I always believed I had enough talent to challenge and win one."
Kansas City native and five-time British Open champion Tom Watson, now 61, fired his third round of two-over-par 72 to go along with an even par 70 on Friday, to finish at six-over 286, tied for 22nd place, 11 shots back of Clarke. Another local golfer, Gary Woodland, who hails from Topeka, Kan., and played collegiate golf at the University of Kansas, also shot a final-round 72 for a score of 289 and a tie with seven other golfers (three of them Americans: Stewart Cink, Ryan Palmer and Bubba Watson) in 30th place.