How the 2011 Open Championship Was Won
WE SHOULD have been at Royal St George’s this week for The Open Championship. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic forced its postponement for the first time since the Second World War. It is now nine years since the tournament was last played there and saw an emotional victory for Darren Clarke. Here we relive the highlights of that wonderful week on the Kent coast.
It was the 140th staging of the world’s oldest major and Clarke won by three shots from Americans Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson. This was the 14th time that the course had hosted The Open. When it was staged there in 2003 it had been won by Ben Curtis, who was the only player in the field to finish under par. In 2011 it had been lengthened by 105 yards and the fourth hole had been turned from a par five into a four for the world’s best players.
Returning to the course where he led by three shots with four holes to play in 2003, Thomas Bjorn shot a five-under-par 65 in the morning to set the pace in the first round. He was caught later in the day by 20-year-old English amateur Tom Lewis, who became the first amateur to share the lead since Michael Bonnallack in 1968. His 65 was also the lowest score ever recorded by an amateur. On a day of low scoring, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson all shot 66.
Rory McIlroy, fresh from his stunning victory in the US Open, shot a 71, the same score as world No1 Luke Donald and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood. Defending champion Louis Oosthuizen struggled to a two-over-par 72. Johnson had a hole in one at the par-three 16th on his way to a 70, while a group of players on 68 included Graeme McDowell and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer. The scene was set for a thrilling championship.
In the second round, Lewis shot a 74. America’s Glover, who began the day one off the lead, shot a 70 to finish the day on four under par and he was joined by Clarke, who finished his day with a birdie at the 18th. The wind started to blow in the afternoon and scores began to climb. Bjorn finished with a 72 to end the day on three under. Jimenez, aged 47, and ended the day on three under alongside Bjorn, Chad Campbell and Kaymer.
At the age of 61, Tom Watson, who had nearly won at Turnberry two years earlier, aced the sixth hole on his way to a 70 and easily made the cut, becoming the oldest player ever to make it through to the weekend. McIlroy had a 69 to lie four off the lead alongside Rickie Fowler. Among those who missed the cut were Donald, Westwood, McDowell, Matt Kuchar and Padraig Harrington.
The third round began in wet and windy conditions and, in the worst of the weather, Watson battled his way to a 72 to finish the day on 212, two over par. Fowler produced a stunning 68 to move into contention at two under. But the day belonged to Clarke. Looking to land his first major, the Northern irishman played superbly and recorded a 69 to take the 54-hole lead on 205, five under par. He led Johnson by one. Second-round leader Glover fell back with a 73 and trailed by four. Phil Mickelson’s 71 saw him end the day on 210, while Bjorn’s 71 saw him go into the final round three adrift of Clarke.
Clarke was playing in his 20th Open at the age of 42. With the wind howling and the rain tipping down, he played some magnificent golf on the final day, finishing with a 70 to win the Claret Jug by three shots. Mickelson began the day five adrift but played the front nine in a scarcely credible 30 shots. When he eagled the seventh hole he was tied for the lead, and a birdie at the 10th took him to six under par and saw him lead the tournament by a shot.
Teeing off 30 minutes later, Clarke also eagled the seventh, which gave him a two-shot lead that he would never relinquish. Mickelson’s challenge faltered on the back nine with four dropped shots and he would eventually finish with a 68.
Johnson, who was playing with Clarke, was two behind when the pair stood on the tee at the par-five 14th. Trying to find the green with his second shot, he hit the ball out of bounds, dropped two strokes and his challenge was over. At this point Clarke led by four with four holes left to play. He was able to drop shots at each of the final two holes and still cruise to victory.
Earlier in the day, Sergio Garcia, playing his 49th consecutive major, had threatened to go low after being four under for his round late on his front nine, but faded to a 68 (−2), and tied for ninth place. His 68 matched the low round of the day with Mickelson. Bjorn finished alone in fourth place while Tom Watson fired his third 72 of the week to finish in a tie for 22nd place.
Clarke became the third man from Northern Ireland to win a major in little over a year - the others were McDowell and McIlroy, both of whom won the US Open. He became the oldest first-time major winner, and oldest Open Champion since Roberto De Vicenzo in 1967.
Clarke had won more than 20 tournaments around the world, but never won the big one. He had played a distinguishing role in five Ryder Cup teams, never more so than in 2006 at the K Club, when he performed brilliantly for Europe just a few weeks after the death of his wife, Heather. Yet for all that he had never gained entry into the exclusive club reserved for major champions.
Afterwards, he paid tribute to his late wife and to his two sons, Conor and Tyrone. The boys watched from home in Northern Ireland.
"In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me. She'd probably be saying, 'I told you so'," he said of the Heather Clarke. "But I think she'd be more proud of my two boys and them at home watching more than anything else. It's been a long journey to get here. It's incredible – it really is. It's for the kids.
"You know, bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times. I've always been pretty hard on myself when I fail because I don't find it very easy to accept that. And there's times I've been completely and utterly fed up with the game. But friends and family say, get out there and practise and keep going, keep going, keep going, and that's why I'm sitting here now.”
There was barely a dry eye in the house as Clarke hoisted the Claret Jug.
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