Clarke hoping to repeat Sandwich miracle
Darren Clarke is living proof that anything could happen in this week's Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
Twelve months ago, the Northern Ireland star turned up for his 20th crack at trying to land the game's oldest and most prestigious title. He was a 150-1 shot and his spirits were low after a poor finish at the previous week's Scottish Open.
Clarke had started the spring of 2011 with victory in the Iberdrola Open, but in the five tournaments that followed he failed to make the top 40 and was a miserable 66th at Castle Stuart.
"I was hitting the ball well but not scoring particularly well," Clarke recalled. He arrived at Royal St George's probably more in hope than expectation and promptly set about curing his ills on the greens.
He more than succeeded in that regard and famously by the end of the week was striding the closing hole to tumultuous applause that greeted his hugely popular victory.
Commentating for BBC Radio 5 live, I walked every step of a final round that was a textbook example of golfing craftsmanship as Clarke found the way to ride the elements to glory.
Darren Clarke celebrates his 2011 Open Championship win at Sandwich. Photo: Getty
In the wind and rain that battered the Kent coast that day, it was a rare privilege to witness the adulation and fervour generated by the Ryder Cup hero's win. The serenity he summoned for the final round set him apart from the field.
We had long since known that such talent lay within the burly frame of this son of Northern Ireland, but often his temperament had been doubted.
He also had to cope with the demands of becoming a single dad after the death of his wife Heather five years earlier.
In every dimension this was a classic sporting fairytale of a man who at the age of 42 must have wondered whether his career would pass by without such a moment of golfing fulfilment.
But Clarke's Open triumph hasn't proved the launchpad to any form of golfing domination. Quite the contrary because the past 12 months have been a complete anti-climax and he has not come close to landing another victory.
"It's been a much better year off the golf course than on the golf course," Clarke said. "But I wouldn't change anything."
When he began Open week by driving into the Lytham car park to be greeted by R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson on a wet Monday morning, there was an annual tradition to be performed.
Clarke handed back the famous Claret Jug to the man who had announced his victory at last year's presentation ceremony.
"Not quite in as good a condition as I received it in," Clarke admitted. "But Mr Dawson looked at it and said 'oh we can fix this and fix that. So it's not too bad.'"
But can the Clarke game be fixed in time for a successful defence? The adverse weather forecast might help, because he revels in the rain, and so may a release of pressure because he no longer holds the Claret Jug.
"I've certainly fallen into a little bit of a trap of trying to play better and trying too hard as opposed to just going and playing," Clarke said when it was put to him that becoming Open Champion had made it harder to compete.
"I was of the mentality that I've got to go out and play like the Open Champion, instead of just playing the way that I did in the first place. I got a little caught up and tried too hard. Unfortunately that's the nature of our game."
The trophy may have been returned but the memories remain vivid and they might just inspire another huge upset. Just as he was last year, Clarke is a 150-1 shot here on the Lancashire coast.
And if further evidence was required that the golfing gods remain in rude health, it has surely come from the veterans' circuit where Roger Chapman has just landed his second major in six weeks.
The PGA Seniors winner is now the Seniors US Open champion, having held off the likes of Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Fred Funk in the final round.
Not bad for a self-confessed journeyman whose only European Tour victory came in Brazil.
Those gods, busy in Detroit last week, were at work at Sandwich a year ago. What do they have in store for Lytham this week? Anything is possible.