Sunday’s finale to the 2011 Open Championship featured outstanding golf in difficult conditions, exhiliration, heartbreak and a satisfying outcome. Darren Clarke kept the Northern Ireland magic alive by capturing the 140th Open Championship, distancing himself from runners up Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson by three shots.
The weather again played a central character in the drama, shifting and changing faster than Sarah Palin’s explanation of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. Net net, the weather Sunday was difficult for everyone — primarily heavy winds and intermittent rain. Darren Clarke enjoyed some nice timing between lines of showers and the worst of the wind but such is the luck of the draw in the Open Championship and links golf.
Phil Mickelson, breaking from his normal Open performance, sent Sunday morning shockwaves through the course by playing one of the greatest nine-hole major championship sides EVER, carding a spectacular (-5) on the front nine and catching Clarke for the lead. He moved it to (-6) on #10 but then missed a chain of short par putts on following holes — the magic disappeared as quickly as it came. Still, Mickelson played a very good Open and perhaps shed the “can’t play links golf” monkey once and for all. To score a front-nine 30 in heavy wind and rain on a brutal Royal St. George’s course — simply amazing.
Clarke, played another steady 18 holes. Perhaps the moment that kept his foundation solid was matching Mickelson’s front-nine eagle with one of his own. He dispatched his round’s few moments of minor trouble without notable concern. And two shots headed directly at deep bunkers miraculously hopped over them to workable lies — perhaps there is something to the “luck of the Irish”. Clarke’s round was spectacular in its own way — to be as consistent as he was in such nasty conditions and under great pressure made it so.
Dustin Johnson will win several majors — he is too good not to. He stayed close to Clarke through the round and stood two back on the 14th fairway with an opportunity to gain at least a stroke. A bad 2-iron swing doomed him as he hit it the only place on #14 it could really hurt him — to the right and out of bounds. Game over.
Clarke’s story is a nice one — a testament to professional skill and determination. He is a deserving winner and a “comeback kid” overcoming personal tragedy. The final chapter of the book of 2011 has a nice ending.
Onward to the 2012 Open! Cheers.