Darren Clarke wins with 72nd hole birdie

Darren Clarke stalked the upcoming shot, trying to decide what exactly he wanted to do.

The Northern Irishmen was sitting just off the green on his 72nd hole of the Senior Open Championship at Gleneagles Hotel Kings Course in Auchterarder, Scotland. Clarke and Padraig Harrington were tied on the leaderboard, but if Clarke found a way to birdie the final hole, he would be victorious.

Heavy rains caused disruptions to the final round, so Clarke had to decide whether to putt from the fairway short of the par-5 18th or to chip it. I went with a putter, and it was a great choice.

Clarke’s third shot from about 30 yards away settled a couple feet from the hole, and he was able to knock in the short putt for birdie, clinching his first senior major title. It’s his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory, and he becomes the fourth men’s golfer in history to win both the Open Championship (2011 at Royal St. George’s) and Senior Open, joining Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson.

“It was tough right there,” Clarke said. “You know, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wanted to win this more than anything. From when I turned 50, this is the one you wanted to win, so I could set it beside the other one. Pretty good feeling right now.”

“To join that illustrious company is very special.”

Clarke made only two birdies during his final round of 1-under 69, but it was enough. He birdied seven of the eight par 5s he played all week, his only blemish Sunday coming on the 10th hole. He fought back with a birdie at the 12th hole and then grinded out pars until his birdie putt on the final hole.

Even with the weather, Clarke was always confident.

“Yeah, it’s what I grew up playing in,” Clarke said. “Don’t make it any easier, but you know at the start, it was a bit of a battle. Pars were almost a prisoner at the very beginning, and you’re trying to avoid making mistakes. And I was pretty much cruising until I made a terrible swing on No. 10, my second shot. All of a sudden, I turned an easy birdie into a bad bogey.

“So you know from there, keep my head down, hit some really good shots after that again. Kept giving myself chances but the putter was a little bit cold all week as you probably saw. I didn’t really hole anything of note this week but whenever I had to do it on 18 there, whenever I had to get one up close there, I managed to do it.”

After hitting his tee shot on the 14th hole, golfers were pulled off the course, and there was a delay of about two hours until players were allowed back on the course.

Harrington, who made six birdies on the back nine, was one of the first people to congratulate Clarke after the round.

Clarke, 53, finished the week at 10 under, shooting under par in all four rounds. Clarke, Harrington and Ernie Els, who finished in a six-way tie for third, were the only golfers to shoot under par in every round during the Senior Open Championship.

As for Clarke, he said he has options as to what he will drink out of the trophy come Sunday night.

“It will be good,” Clarke said.


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