Monday, July 18, 2011

Raise a pint to Darren Clarke

As the British Open unfolded, it became clear for me that my sentimental pick to win this major would be Darren Clarke, a man much more likely to buy a round of Guinness at the pub than to go to the gym, a throwback player who practiced very hard on his game but not so much on his body, a less flamboyant version of Miguel Angel Jimenez, he of the cigar and old school calisthenics.
I certainly wouldn't have minded seeing Dustin Johnson win it either, a young man with all the talent in the world but now after losing yesterday, a man with Phil Mickelson's perchance for epic disasters in majors.  He's already given two major wins away and it could be argued that had he not hit that shot out of bounds yesterday, he could have put some pressure on Clarke.  Darren Clarke has been oh so close before and lost.  So you never know what pressure demons are possible. 
But Clarke didn't face any real pressure from his competitors on Sunday.  Phil Mickelson teed off several groups in front of Darren, five shots back, and proceeded to shoot five under par in the first seven or so holes to catch Clarke with an eagle on the 7th but then Clarke eagled the 7th as well and then Phil eventually came undone and finished two under for the day, several strokes behind the steady Clarke, who was the best all tournament from tee to green.  Phil did get his best-ever finish at The Open Championship, tieing Johnson for second.  Perhaps we have some reason to now be optimistic about Phil in this major going forward; BUT this is a man who only has now two top 10s at this tourney and how many second place finishes in majors?  I think more than can fit on one hand.  As is the tradition at this tourney, awards are given on the 18th green to the winner, the low amateur and the 2nd place finisher(s), which included Mickelson, whose wife has been dealing with breast cancer.  There was a moment prior to the presentation on the green where Phil put his arm around Darren and whispered something to him for a couple of minutes.  It appeared to be a moving moment and I'd love to know what was said.
But it was Clarke's day and Clarke's tourney; and for those who know his story of losing this tournament several years ago in bitter fashion and then losing his wife to breast cancer, all the while being tough and sensitive, it was hard not to be extremely happy for him, despite yours truly being a huge Phil Mickelson fan.
Of course, Rick Reilly says all of this much better than I can.  That's why he makes the big bucks watching sports.

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