Darren Clarke vowed there would be no repeat of his week-long 2011 Open Championship victory celebrations after capturing the Timber Tech Championship in Florida.
Clarke, 52, ended a more than nine-year winless drought comfortably two-putting the final green for birdie on Sunday to capture the penultimate Champions Tour event in Boca Raton, Florida, close to where his eldest son, Tyrone is in college.
Clarke won a maiden Tour title by denying defending champ Bernhard Langer a 42nd Tour victory and also American Jim Furyk his third in three months in the over-50s brigade with the pair sharing second place behind the Northern Irishman
It had been a second round 62 on Saturday that propelled Clarke into a share of the lead with Swede Robert Karlsson heading into the last day but it turned into a nerve-wracking final round for Clarke who found himself tied with Langer coming down the last.
And it was Clarke being 11-years younger than his 63-year old German rival that Langer actually admitted helped set-up victory over the par-5 final hole with Langer confessing the ‘odds were against him’.
Langer said: “The odds were against me there on 18 because Darren is one of the longest guys out here and if he hits a decent drive, he hits 7-iron; driver, 7-iron. I hit driver, 2-iron, so he’s that much longer. If you let him play the 18th hole 10 times, he’ll probably birdie it nine times out of the 10.
“But when you’re under the circumstances he was in, having not won for that long and he knew it and he had to pull it off, it could have been easily a pull hook off the tee or a push in the trees and then he may not birdie. But he hit two very solid shots and had an easy putt for eagle, easy birdie.”
Langer has captured 117 pro career events since 1975 and has two Champions Tour victories already this year but was clearly happy for Clarke as evident when the pair embraced each other at the close of play.
Langer said: “As much as I was looking to win, I am delighted for Darren as he is a good friend. People have no idea what it’s like to have not won for that long and then win another professional event, because in our job you never know if you’re going to win another one and the longer it goes, the more you doubt. He’s had some up-and-down tournaments out here, so he put it all together this week and I opened the door and he came right in.”
Clarke was also met by his wife Alison before they jumped into a motorised buggy and headed back to the clubhouse, with a delighted Clarke looking into a TV camera declaring: “Beer time. Beer-o’clock”.
The last occasion Clarke won the celebrations went on all night at Royal St. George’s and into the rest of the week. Clarke had partied so much on the Sunday night and into the early hours that when he attended a mid-Monday morning post-Open victory press conference admitting he had not been to bed and clearly very hungover. But he assured his fans it would not be the same nine-years on.
He said: “After working away all these years and grinding, and grinding away you turn 50 and you get out here and you just want to win so badly. It’s taken me a while. It’s taken me a bit longer than I hoped it would take me but I got there in the end. So, it’s all going to be a bit of fun.
“The last time I won I had a very sore head for a week. I don’t think my headache is going to last a full week this time like it did the last time. I think it will be a pretty bad headache tomorrow morning I would imagine but just for a little bit.”
Also, when Clarke held off Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson nine years ago at Royal St. George’s, present was then fiancée Alison, a former Miss Northern Ireland who now runs the contest. They were then married a year later. She said: “I had a very nerve-wracking 18 holes and it came down to the last putt but I am just so proud of him. It’s been so long since he last won – 2011. It’s emotional. He deserves it so many times and I am so glad he has won it here, and it’s all just so special.”
The only downside in Clarke’s win is he has been forced out of this week’s season-ending Charles Schwab Championship in Phoenix due to an expired US visa and is heading home. “Unfortunately, with my P-1 visa situation, Boca Raton is my last tournament, so I can’t play Phoenix,” he said. A U.S. P-1 visa is issued to ‘internationally-recognised’ athletes or entertainers’ and can only be renewed outside of the U.S.
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