Darren Clarke made it back-to-back Irish-born over-50 Major Champions in denying Padraig Harrington victory in the Senior Open Championship by Rolex at Gleneagles
Clarke birdied the 72nd hole to win by a shot in a round of a one-under-par 69 for a four-round 10-under tally on the Kings Course.
The win came just a month after Harrington, who brilliantly birdied six of his closing nine Gleneagles holes including the final two, captured the US Senior Open on June 26th, and while Harrington was naturally disappointed not to make it two senior majors in succession, he was delighted for his 53-year-old Irish compatriot.
Clarke, and contesting a now ultra-lucky 13th senior major, is now only the fourth player to capture the Open Championship and Senior Open Championship victory double, a feat he denied Harrington in achieving, and with the first Senior Open staged in 1987.
Prior winners of the Open/Senior victory double include Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson, who captured a third Senior Open in 2007.
Clarke had been in contention for Senior Open victory a year ago ahead of finishing third to former Irish Open winner Stephen Dodd but a year on the Portrush man had captured a first senior major eleven years after capturing the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges.
“It feels pretty awesome to do the double”, he said. “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.
“So, it’s a pretty good feeling right now.
“Also, I feel very privileged. Very privileged to get my name on The Open trophy and the Claret Jug, and now to get my name on this one as well and go beside some legends of the game. I feel very humbled and very honoured.
“Also, I was fortunate at The Open last week at St. Andrews in spending a bit of time with my old coach, Pete Cowen on the practice range and while it didn’t go all that well, as he was trying to get me to do a few things that took time to work in, he helped me win the main Open Championship and now he’s helped me win this one too.
“He just got me adopting a more simple swing thought, so that I would get out of my own way and I was able to do it but to be now is such an illustrious company winning both The Open and the Senior Open is pretty special”.
Clarke headed into the final round after also birdieing the last on Saturday to be tied with England’s Paul Broadhurst, who captured the event in 2016. However, Clarke could not get out of first gear over his inward half, posting nine pars before posting a bogey at the 10th but then regaining the shot with a birdie at 12.
While Clarke was somewhat struggling, Harrington emerged from an outward nine of three-over, thanks to a seventh hole bogey and a ninth hole double, to light-up the course as rain clouds began looming over the area. The 50-year-old Dubliner, who missed the Open Championship last week, birdied the 10th, 12th, 14 and 15th holes, and also the final two.
However, and with Harrington four groups ahead of Clarke, the heavens opened with Clarke one shot clear of the field on the 14th hole, and with the downpour quickly flooding parched fairways and greens.
After the lengthy delay, Glenagles greens staff worked feverishly clearing the water for play to resume at 8pm.
Harrington did what he had to do to set the clubhouse mark at nine-under but with Clarke emerging to birdie the par-5 18th for all four days, and claim his second over-50 title after capturing a fourth PGA Champions Tour counting title, since making his Champions debut in late 2020.
“It was really tough out there, with tough conditions and early on I was just grinding out some pars and cruising when I made a terrible swing to take a bogey on 10 which felt like a double that really had my back against the wall”, Clarke added.
“Then I kept giving myself opportunities but the speed of my putts was a bit off all week, though I managed to do the right thing there on 18 (smiling), so all good.
“I was very relaxed this week and when I have won some of my biggest tournaments, the Open Championship, two WGC titles and so many other victories, I have had a sense of calmness.
“I don’t know where that comes from but if I was able to control myself I may have won a few more titles in my career than I won but this week I had that calmness. I think it comes from being accepting. I know I am going to hit some poor shots, and I am not going to hole all the putts I would like, so when you are accepting you kind of amber along and accept the outcome.
“Plus, I had my old caddy Jamie Lee back on the back this week, so that helped me, also”.
And after the memorable no-sleep victory celebration of 2011, Clarke was quizzed how he would celebrate winning a second claret jug.
“This one doesn’t hold as much (laughter) but I’ll have a few celebratory drinks tonight,” he said.
“As I said, to win the tournament I always wanted to win, The Open Championship, and then to win this one as a senior, this is the one I wanted to win more than anything. I feel.
“Very fortunate to have been able to have done it. Fulfilling your dreams is a very lucky thing, and I’ve been able to do it a few times in my career”.