by G. Rennie
The 140th Open Championship just concluded at Royal St. George’s gave us viewers four days of compelling human drama. There was plenty of fine golf as well, with a couple of aces on par 3’s and a respectable number of eagles when the weather proved favorable rather than penal. But the prevailing storyline was one of redemption and that’s about as good a hook a story can have.
Darren Clarke’s story was the most prominent but it’s far from the only one. The symbol of Royal St. George’s depicts St. George astride a horse slaying a dragon underfoot. And on Thursday, the Great Dane, Thomas Bjorn, came to slay his dragons, demons and all other doubters as he posted an early 5 under to take the championship lead. In terrible wind and rain, he calmed the course that had so vanquished him in 2003, when the Open was last held on these links and he squandered a three shot lead with four to play on Sunday. His fine play continued throughout and he nailed down a top 5 finish, all with a heavy heart as he mourned the recent passing of his father.
Then there was Philly Mick. Uninspired play, especially with his putter, characterized Phil’s first three rounds but he started the final day within striking distance at even par, only five back of the leader Clarke and with only a handful of other golfers between him and the leader. There had been talk of Phil taking a new approach to the Open, of embracing the challenge of links golf in a new way and there was a hell of a lot of speculation from the commentariat on why this supremely talented golfer had fared so poorly at this championship over the past two decades. Phil captivated with a blistering start, two under after four, two more birds, then a thunderous eagle on number seven that tied the lead at -5. The Lefty charge was in full flight and when he made bird on 10 to go to minus 6 we were mesmerized and BELIEVED he could win this thing. No player since Greg Norman has endured more falls from the pinnacle to the rocks below than Phil and that script played out again as a short par saving putt was missed and the round came undone. Still, this was Phil’s best placing ever in the Open, joint second, and though he came up short it certainly seems that Phil can, and will be a factor in future Opens.
Three of the last six majors have gone to players from Northern Ireland and Darren Clarke is unquestionably the elder statesman of the group, the golfing godfather of that small nation. I don’t know what the odds in Ladbroke’s were at the start of play but Clarkie wasn’t on anybody’s short list of favorites to take the Claret Jug. There isn’t a more likeable fellow on the international golf scene as Darren has an ever-present, natural smile and a glint in his eye. Fast cars, fancy clothes, vintage cigars, and an appreciation for all fine beverages belied his humble origins. He was a man of the people who made good and was unchanged by fame and fortune. And when fortune turned for the worse and cancer took his lovely wife Heather five years ago his suffering played out on a global stage. From the depths of despair Clarke has rebuilt his life, with a new fiancé to help him care for his two sons. And now he’s on top of the golfing world as Champion Golfer of the Year.