Just as they did a decade ago on the eve of the tournament at Royal St. George’s, Darren Clarke teed up with fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy for a final practice round ahead of the opening day of The Open.
10 years ago it was Clarke who went on to win an unexpected first Major title at the age of 42 in Sandwich and although his time may have come and gone on this Major stage in 2021, Clarke is convinced after getting up close and personal with McIlroy that the 32-year old’s game is more than capable of capturing a second Claret Jug.
“It’s great to get out there and spend a bit of time with him,” Clarke said of McIlroy having invited the prodigious talent into his academy for a hit around Portmarnock many moons ago.
“He’s working away on things, and as you say, it’s been a while since he’s won one, but he’s unquestionably got the talent to win many more of them. It’s just a case of, I think, things kicking into place for him.
“I know he’s working diligently and doing a lot of work with Pete [Cowen] to try and hit the ball the way he wants to hit the golf ball. This week there’s going to be a premium on keeping it on the fairways, as you can see out there. That long stuff is really long and thick this week. We’ll see.
“He’s working really hard. He hit some great shots today [Wednesday], hit a couple of maybe ones he didn’t want to hit, but that’s part of working on it. Today is the day to do it. Today maybe you’ll hit a driver that you won’t hit tomorrow or over the weekend, so I think he was doing that today, as well.
“We’ll see. There’s no questioning his talent. I think he’s one of the most, if not the most, naturally gifted player in the world, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts winning again.”
Having grown frustrated with his own Major shortcomings prior to claiming the Claret Jug in 2011, Clarke was asked if he could impart any wisdom on McIlroy given it’s been seven years since the four-time Major winner last tasted success on golf’s biggest stage.
“Who am I to give Rory McIlroy suggestions on what he should be and shouldn’t be doing,” Clarke said. “The guy with that amount of talent, he’s one of the best players in the world, and I’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of them: Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory, all the greatest players in the world.
So it would be a little bit ahead of myself if I was to try to give him advice. But in saying that, I have been frustrated for the majority of my career. At the end of the day you’ve just got to believe in your own ability and believe to your own talent and trust that it’s going to happen, and that’s the bottom line.”
“Believe me, I spoke to Rory many times when we were playing, and his desire is incredible. He wants to win major tournaments. He wants to perform and he wants to play well. If I was him, with his amount of talent, hell yeah I’d be frustrated with not winning tournaments. But with that being said, as I just said there now, the flip-side of that is because the talent that he does have, it’s only a question of time before he starts winning.”
Darren Clarke is one-over par through 3 holes at the time of writing. McIlroy takes to the course at 15.21.
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