SANDWICH (AFP) -- Darren Clarke held his nerve to clinch victory at the British Open here Sunday, becoming the oldest winner of the championship in 44 years as he ended his long wait for a Major.
The popular 42-year-old from Northern Ireland kept his cool in demanding conditions to card a level-par 70, leaving him five under for the tournament and three strokes clear of Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke smiles next to the Claret Jug trophy during a press conference after winning the British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George's golf course Sandwich, England, Sunday, July 17, 2011. (AP-Yonhap News)
"It's been a dream since I've been a kid to win The Open, like any kid's dream is, and I'm able to do it, which just feels incredible, incredible right now," Clarke told reporters.
The win capped a final round of twists and turns at Royal St George's, where wild fluctuations in the weather were mirrored early on by a fast-moving battle at the top of the leaderboard before Clarke's rivals fell away.
It also represented a triumph of persistence for the paunchy, cigarette-smoking Clarke, who finally claimed the famous Auld Claret jug at the 20th time of asking, a new record.
Clarke, whose ranking has slipped to 111 in recent years, becomes the oldest winner of the Open since Argentina's Roberto de Vicenzo won aged 44 in 1967.
Many observers had assumed that Clarke's days of challenging for Majors were over, with the veteran Ulsterman seemingly destined to forever rue his near-miss at the 1997 Open at Troon, where he tied for second.
But Clarke insisted he never doubted his ability to eventually win a Major.
"You know, bad times in golf are more frequent than the good times," he
said. "There's times I've been completely and utterly fed up with the game.
"But friends and family say, get out there and practice and keep going, keep going, keep going, and that's why I'm sitting here now."
Clarke also paid tribute to his late wife Heather, with whom he had two sons, who died in 2006 from breast cancer.