No one had taken more than 16 appearances to win The Open until Darren Clarke triumphed at Royal St George’s on his 20th.
It was a long wait for man who grew up playing links golf, but he had recently moved back to Northern Ireland, with his two sons and fiancee, and had spent the previous winter playing Royal Portrush in all weathers.
This turned out to be valuable preparation for an Open played on the Kent coast in largely cool, wet and windy conditions. Clarke put on an exhibition of links golf while battling the elements to win by three strokes from Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
He was briefly caught by Mickelson on Sunday but an eagle at the seventh followed by nine rock-solid pars clinched victory. Mickelson was six under for ten holes but then missed a short putt at the 11th and his challenge faded.
Johnson got within two strokes but went out of bounds at the 14th. “It’s been a dream since I was a kid to win The Open,” Clarke said. “It’s been a long journey.” At 42, he became the oldest Champion Golfer since the 44-year-old Roberto de Vicenzo in 1967.
The first home winner since Paul Lawrie in 1999, it was a popular and emotional victory. Clarke’s first wife Heather died of breast cancer in 2006. “She’s be very proud and probably saying, ‘I told you so’,” Clarke said.
He later donated the Champion’s Gold Medal to Royal Portrush, to sit alongside that of Fred Daly, Northern Ireland’s previous Open Champion from 1947.
Tom Lewis shared the first-round lead after his 65 broke the record for the lowest score by an amateur previously held by Frank Stranahan, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose. Lewis, who was playing with the man he was named after, Tom Watson, went on to claim the Silver Medal.