Our Royal St George’s Recap series has looked back on the five most recent Open Championships to have been held at the venue for The 149th Open in 2021.
The series concludes with a review of The Open’s last visit to Sandwich, 10 years ago, which proved a truly memorable occasion as Darren Clarke lifted the Claret Jug.
A 200-1 outsider at the start of the week, Clarke proved a class apart in his 20th Open appearance, ultimately finishing three shots clear of Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson to earn one of the most popular victories of recent times.
Members of The One Club can watch the Official Film of the Championship via the video player below. If you are not yet a member, join for free today and enjoy an array of exclusive content, together with a range of additional benefits such as priority ticket access and member-only competitions and offers.
THE CHAMPION GOLFER OF THE YEAR
A player of proven pedigree, Clarke had long been viewed as someone capable of winning major championships, However, ahead of The 140th Open in 2011, many felt his chance of claiming one of golf’s biggest prizes had most likely passed.
Clarke knew he could still deliver at the very highest level, though, and his performance at Royal St George’s was certainly one to savour.
After relocating to Portrush the previous summer, Clarke had spent plenty of time refamiliarising himself with links golf. This experience came to the fore as he hit the front through 36 holes before holding his nerve superbly over the weekend.
Mickelson and Johnson each applied pressure at different points on the final day, but Clarke ultimately triumphed with comfort and was able to enjoy the glorious experience of coming down the last with a four-stroke lead.
-5 Darren Clarke (68, 68, 69, 70)
-2 Dustin Johnson (70, 68, 68, 72), Phil Mickelson (70, 69, 71, 68)
-1 Thomas Bjorn (65, 72, 71, 71)
E Chad Campbell (69, 68, 74, 69), Anthony Kim (72, 68, 70, 70), Rickie Fowler (70, 70, 68, 72)
LEWIS STEALS THE SHOW ON DAY ONE
Clarke ended the week as the centre of attention, but the opening day’s headlines were made by a player more than half his age.
Amateur Tom Lewis, the Boys’ Amateur Champion at Royal St George’s in 2009, produced a spectacular performance in round one, having been grouped with the man he was named after, five-time Champion Golfer Tom Watson.
In the presence of greatness, Lewis secured a slice of Open history for himself on Thursday as he carded a five-under 65 – the lowest score by an amateur in the Championship – to share first place with Thomas Bjorn.
Four birdies in row from the 14th lifted the 20-year-old Englishman to the top of the leaderboard and prompted an amusing incident towards the end of his round.
“There was a massive screen by the clubhouse and me and (Lorne) Duncan (Lewis’ experienced caddie) were on the TV,” recalled the youngster with a grin.
“And I was just like: “Oh look, Duncan, it’s us on the TV, I think we’re in the lead!”
Lewis’ outstanding display, which helped him win the Silver Medal ahead of Peter Uihlein, drew praise from Watson.
“It’s always a pleasure to play with the young players, because it gives me vicarious pleasure from the memories that I had when I was a young player,” said Watson, who raised plenty of cheers himself with a hole-in-one at the sixth on day two, the second of the week after Johnson made an ace at 16 in round one.
“Tom played a wonderful round of golf. He struck the ball beautifully and his putting was excellent. It looked like he was very much in control of his golf game and his emotions.”
BJORN AGAIN IN THE HUNT
Bjorn could perhaps have been forgiven for not wanting to see Royal St George’s again after his painful second-place finish in 2003, when he looked to have the Championship in his grasp, only to finish one shot behind Ben Curtis.
However, after receiving a late call-up in 2011 when Vijay Singh withdrew, Bjorn once more contended at Sandwich, this time in poignant circumstances.
The Dane was moved to tears in a news conference following his wonderful opening-day 65, as he discussed the death of his father two months earlier.
“He would have been very proud of what I did today,” said an understandably emotional Bjorn, who continued to impress throughout the week and eventually finished fourth at one under.
CROWD SUPPORT AIDS CLARKE AS ENGLISH FAVOURITES FALTER
Only one English player has won The Open in England since World War II, Tony Jacklin achieving the feat at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1969.
But in 2011, there were strong hopes of an Englishman emulating Jacklin at Royal St George’s, as the Championship began with Luke Donald and Lee Westwood occupying the top two spots in the Official World Golf Rankings.
However, both men unexpectedly missed the cut, as Donald ended round two at six over and Westwood posted a four-over aggregate.
The highest-placed English finisher, Simon Dyson, was seven shots off the pace in a tie for ninth, and no other Englishman made the top 25.
With reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy also unable to challenge a month on from his sensational eight-shot victory at Congressional, home support swung strongly behind Clarke and had a significant impact as the Championship progressed.
“There were a lot of Americans up there and he was the people’s favourite, after most of the British guys missed the cut” said John Mulrooney, Clarke’s caddie.
“The crowd were every bit as important for me as any shot that I hit during the week,” added Clarke. “They were absolutely amazing.”
MICKELSON CHARGE A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME
Clarke found himself four shots clear with four to play when his nearest rival Johnson went out of bounds on the par-5 14th and carded a double-bogey.
From that point on, the Northern Irishman eased to victory, yet he had come under huge pressure earlier in the day as Mickelson roared into contention.
Five strokes behind at the start of the final round, Mickelson threatened to pull off something truly special as he pulled level with Clarke by playing the first seven holes in five under par.
A birdie at 10 sustained Lefty’s charge after Clarke had matched his eagle at the seventh, but Mickelson then missed a short par putt on the 11th and was unable to regain momentum thereafter.
On this occasion, the veteran American was forced to settle for runner-up honours, but it was a different story at Muirfield two years later when he sustained top form throughout the final round to secure the Claret Jug – doing so, like Clarke, in his 20th Open appearance.
WET AND WINDY SATURDAY CONTRIBUTES TO TOUGH SCORING
Clarke, Mickelson, Johnson and Bjorn were the only players to finish the 2011 Championship under par, with Saturday’s rotten weather a significant factor in that statistic.
Those out early in round three faced particularly brutal conditions and only three men broke 70 all day. Click here to read more about the dismal weather and those who made the best job of overcoming it.