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Clarke stays clear but race for Claret Jug wide open

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Rob Hodgetts | 21:34 UK time, Saturday, 16 July 2011


One round left and still no clue where the Claret Jug is heading.

Twelve men separated by five shots. It's like throwing the balls up in the air and seeing where they land. Except on this course a quirky bounce or a blast of wind and they would roll into the rough or out of bounds.

Everyone has a tale to tell and a good reason for winning. Some might not be familiar yet, but the Claret Jug will change that.

Darren Clarke is the leader and would be a sentimental favourite. A European stalwart who finished second in the 1997 Open at Royal Troon and third at Royal Lytham in 2001. But mostly the fans will roar him on because of his emotional performance at the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland when he played shortly after the loss of wife Heather to breast cancer.

Clarke also represents everyman - happy with a pint in his hand, the antithesis of the super-fit modern pro. His manager Chubby Chandler even observed he plays better fat. After winning in Spain earlier this year Clarke travelled home on a budget airline and bought drinks for the entire flight to celebrate

A Clarke win would also crown a remarkable period for Northern Irish golf after the US Open successes of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. He would also be only the second Northern Irish winner of the Open after Fred Daly in 1947.

Darren Clarke salutes the crowd on the 18th green at the end of his third round

Clarke, seen here saluting the crowd on the 18th green at the end of his third round, would be a popular winner. Picture: Reuters

"Obviously, I'm very excited," said the 42-year-old from Portrush. "The Open Championship is the biggest and best tournament in the world. I've failed 19 times to lift the Claret Jug. I have an opportunity, but it is just an opportunity because it is going to be very windy again."

He added: "Did I ever doubt I would get back in this position? No. Did I know it was going to happen? No. Did I hope it was going to happen? Yes."

Playing with Clarke in the final group will be 27-year-old Dustin Johnson, the athletic American with the big-driving reputation.

Johnson has been close in majors but also burned by the experience. Last year he led the US Open by three shots going into the final round but the big stage got to him and he amassed 82. Later that year, he thought he had secured a spot in a play-off for the USPGA, only to be penalised two shots when it was discovered he had inadvertently grounded his club on a sandy patch of ground deemed to be a bunker at the quirky Whistling Straits course.

But the resilient Johnson's back again, and expects to be better for his near misses.
"Obviously, I've been in this situation a few times so I think the more you put yourself in a situation the more comfortable you get," said Johnson, who at four under is one stroke behind Clarke.

Johnson is part of the new breed of US players hoping to break a record run of five straight majors without an American winner. Going into the final round, there are 12 Americans in the top 20.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with American guys or American golf," he said. "We struggled in the last few majors but everyone struggles in majors. But we've got a good shot at getting one on Sunday."

Rickie Fowler, two back in third, is the new pin-up boy of US golf and one of America's big hopes to keep a lid on Rory McIlroy, with whom he seems inextricably linked.

The pair, now 22, were both the game's leading amateurs at one stage and were on opposing teams in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down. But while the Northern Irishman has kick-started his major tally and won on both the US and European Tours, Fowler is yet to land a professional victory despite three runner-up finishes.

Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy share a joke during thier round together at Sandwich

Fowler outshone his playing partner McIlroy on Saturday, producing a superb round in the treacherous conditions. Picture: Reuters

The cool Californian, who likes riding his motocross bike almost as much as golf, came of age at the Ryder Cup last year. Picked "on a hunch" by captain Corey Pavin, Fowler repaid his faith by birdieing the last four holes against Edoardo Molinari to steal what could have been a decisive half point in the singles.

"That's probably one I'm going to draw on for the rest of my life," he said. But the poster-boy image and streetstyle looks also belie a gritty competitor in the wind and rain of an Open Championship.

In only his first Open last year at St Andrews he carded 67, 71, 67 for the last three rounds to tie for 14th. And on a savage Saturday at Sandwich he fired the joint best round of the day with Johnson - a 68, at least half of which was played in atrocious conditions. And which was six shots better than playing partner McIlroy.

"I love links golf, I love the variety of shots you have to play," he said. "Joe, my caddie, watched a little bit of the coverage prior to us going out, and he just saw kind of how Tom Watson looked like he was having fun, smiling, and embracing the conditions.
"You have to embrace where you're at and what's in front of you. I'd love my first win to be a major and for it to be here."

Then there's Thomas Bjorn, tied at two under with Fowler. The 40-year-old Dane, a Ryder Cup vice-captain in October, broke down in tears in front of the world's press on Thursday when asked what his father, who died in May, would have made of his first-round 65 to lead eight years after blowing a four-shot advantage with three holes left at the same venue.

"Very proud" was the answer but not half as proud as if his son, who took some time to get over that infamous collapse in 2003, was to grab an improbable maiden major title on Sunday.

Another shot further back is Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, the eccentric 47-year-old, nicknamed "the Mechanic", who performs a series of elaborate stretches with a cigar firmly clamped in his teeth and who follows each round with a glass or two of his favourite Rioja, whether he has shot 65 or 85.

The popular four-time Ryder Cup player is a prolific winner on the European Tour but is another without a major to his name. How fitting if he was to win the first major following the death of his countryman, the late, great Seve Ballesteros. Ironic, too, given that Jimenez said this week it was time to move on from Seve's death and focus on the future. And if he did get his hands around the Claret Jug, he would he would be the oldest Open champion in history, beating Old Tom Morris, who was 46, when he won in 1867.

Finally, of the six men going into the final day under par, there is American Lucas Glover, tied with Jimenez. A surprise winner of the 2009 US Open as a clean-cut journeyman, he appeared to be heading into 'one-major wonder' land. But now sporting a full backwoodsman beard, the 31-year-old from South Carolina secured another win earlier this year and is in contention to back up his US Open title.

Of those at level par, American star Phil Mickelson is still chasing an Open win to add to his three Masters and one USPGA title. The 41-year-old Californian claims he has reinvented his approach to links golf and it seems to be working as he looks to improve on a best finish of third in 2004. "There's nothing more exciting than on Sunday having a chance in a major," he said.

These are just the headline acts. There are five players alongside Mickelson five shots off the lead. And on the unpredictable Royal St George's layout, with a stiff breeze blowing, anything can happen.

Remember, too, that Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots back to win at Carnoustie in 1999, albeit helped by Jean van de Velde's implosion. And that even brings McIlroy, who is nine back, into the equation.

But we could go on. Everyone has a story. Everyone is desperate to win and everyone will be a deserving champion if they take fewer shots than anyone else. The one certainty is that someone will pick up the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sorry... but I have been interupted by flamming golf over the past two days. No! I do not appreciate my intelligence and presence being bombarded by(usual) 5 Live n being bored by a masoginistic, middleclass, fred perry wearing elite with next to no personality and with pringles for brains. Plus "something for the weekend" was cancelled for this camp, that is of interest to only a select few.... .. GOLF OFF BBC 1 and 2!!!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Pretty silly post from number one. Sounds like a student from one of those pretend 'universities' with a chip on their shoulder over anyone more successful than them, which I suspect is almost everyone. How incredibly sad to get upset about the tedious tripe "something for a weekend" being cancelled for one of the nation's best loved sporting events. Check out the viewing figures for tomorrow's golf and compare them with your beloved simpleton programme and see which is more popular.

  • Comment number 3.

    @redzoe: What is the point of commenting on a golfing page, if you don't even like golf? You are just asking to be slated by other commenters.

    I know plenty of people who watch the golf and will be watching it tomorrow. Personally, I hope that Darren Clarke wins it, it would be a very popular victory, and my favourite, especially with what he has been through in recent years.

    Its also been good to watch Tom Watson performing some of his best golf again after the heroics of Turnberry 2 years ago. Lets hope he finishes his weekend with a strong final round.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1. The word is "misogynistic", from the original Greek, if what you refer to as your intelligence can withstand a further bombardment.
    As far as the golf goes, it's a shame for Tom Watson that the weather got better later, because his 72 in the teeth of the worst conditions was absolute class. Of the realistic contenders, and much as I would love Clarke to do it, Ricky Fowler seemed to me to have the best all round game today. Europe (and especially Northern Ireland!) doesn't have the monopoly on uber-talented 20-somethings.

  • Comment number 5.

    No.4. Yeah they have one, nobody ever Northern Ireland had more than one. Darren or Dustin please, because I bet on both of them at the start of the tournament! £5 on darren at 150/1 and £10 on Johnson at 40/1, money money money!!

  • Comment number 6.

    It's amazing how hopeless the BBC and media pundits can be- when it comes to predicting the winner of The Open.
    How they can go on about the USA not having won a Major for five events is beyond me, especially when you look at our record in this famous event.
    Yesterday we had three tremendous rounds....
    Tom Watson was magnificent in the teeth of the gale.
    Darren Clarke played tremendous golf- tee to green.
    Ricky Fowler must surely 'edge' the round of the day for his overall brilliance in mostly bad weather.
    Today's final round offers the great possibility of 'someone up there' smiling down on a 'sentimental' or 'fitting' winner....
    It would be wonderful for Darren Clarke, especially after what this immensely likeable irishman has been through.
    Likewise for Thomas Bjorn after his cruel loss on this course before.
    Who could in all fairness begrudge Dustin Johnson after the way he accepted that "waste ground/bunker incident" in the PGA- or the charismatic Spaniard, Jimenez, who appeals to all ages and radiates warmth and individuality.
    For Ricky Fowler to make The Open his first big win would be tremendous for the youngster.
    Personally I hope one of these wins it, and I feel we are in for quite a special and sentimental day!

  • Comment number 7.

    Got to comment on two things. Americans. What a great lesson in class and attitude from Tom Watson down - showing we locals what excellent adaptable players they are and embarrassing any number of xenophobic anti-yank posters on here. I am a proud Brit and massive fan of Lee Westwood but excellent golf is excellent golf whoever plays it. Second comment. BBC are losing the plot on coverage. Too much talk and silly crowd shots. Get a grip and show contenders of whatever nationality. Last point. Would love Darren to win and hope Westy is down there on the 18th to watch his mate bring it home.

  • Comment number 8.

    Good blog as ever Rob.

    I'm hoping that Clarke will win it ... he seems to be in a better place these days compared to his previous near-misses ... although his putting is still a concern.

    On a separate note, could anyone at the BBC tell us why the Open photos are now lumped into a "Sporting Snapshot" page? There were only 3 pictures of Saturday's round posted on the web-site ... no good for those out of the UK without access to TV/radio coverage.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good luck to Darren Clarke for this afternoon. I guess if he wins he will be the most popular open champion in a long time, and hopefully a certainty for sports personality of the year.

    Agree with the comments on the BBC coverage - the final round started at 8am this morning, BBC coverage starts at 11am. While the early starters are unlikely to trouble the top of the leaderboard, it is not as if there is anything else to watch. Sadly it appears that the BBC cant be trusted with covering major sporting events.

  • Comment number 10.

    Rob Hodgett's Blog on Tuesday listed 'Ken Brown's 6 UK contenders' as follows:
    Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter.
    D'Oh! I hadn't realised it was a list of contenders for missing the cut.

    With the bad weather forecast for the following day, on Friday one of the BBC pundits pronounced that Paul Lawrie is a good player in harsh conditions. Well, he shot 81, the 2nd worst score of the day.

    It's as embarrassing as having to listen to the so-called "experts" predict football results on MOTD.

  • Comment number 11.

    Sports commentators that malign the beautiful off-shore wind turbines should be sentenced to a lifetime designing and playing on golf courses within 5 miles of a nuclear power plant - please leave out your blinkered, old fashioned and ignorant comments about alternative energy

  • Comment number 12.

    Personally, I really like to see championships played in bad weather and scores around par. Great course, great tournament and great challenge.

  • Comment number 13.

    In response to post #11 - what?

    In response to posts 1 and 2 - golf is not a sport for the rich, or the elite: I am a fairly average person, with an average job, living in an average flat, with an average girlfriend (sorry, I mean fantastic!), and I love golf. If that makes me part of the "Fred Perry-wearing elite" then I guess I'll take that as a compliment.

    I also agree about Tom Watson - his 72 was superb; had the conditions stayed as they were, he would probably have found himself a lot further up the leaderboard. Looking forward to more fun in the wind and rain today!

  • Comment number 14.

    Just tried booking accomadation for next years open in Lytham St Annes , WHAT A JOKE ,,, £700.00 FOR A WEEK IN A B& B plus you cannot book for just the open u have to book the whole week , why dont the R&A OPEN A MASS TENTED VILLAGE (on one of their other courses to stop these spongeing maggots profitering from everyday golfers ,

  • Comment number 15.

    As a sentimental old golfer my heart really would like Bjorn to steal this as he was cruelly treated last time out at St Georges - however, my head say Clarke as he has the shot making ability to get around this course today as long as is attitude stays the same he can miss some puts and still win. What out for the mechanic though.
    Can someone get rid of Allis off the BBC - hes a dinosaur and well past his sell by date and is in a 1940s time warp.

  • Comment number 16.

    In response to reddave, Bring the Open back to Royal Portrush (Northern Ireland)
    and I promise that the local council will provide
    A tented village and campsite for very little money.

    Typical, As I post this blog Hazel has already mentioned Portrush.


  • Comment number 17.

    I think if Darren can repeat yesterday's performance he has a great chance, because it would then take a really good score to overtake him.

    And if he isn't to win, then to see Bjorn win would be great, for both family reasons and his history on this course.

  • Comment number 18.

    #14 Reddave, perhaps you should stay in Blackpool instead, only a few miles around the coast, and a more "interesting" night life - so long as you don't mind being surrounded by drunk glaswegians, and girls out on a hen night. For £700 you could probably buy a B&B in Blackpool.

  • Comment number 19.

    @Boutyeboy, im from our wee country but workin in london, went to Sandwich on Friday by train 1 hour on high speed , great but what a trek to the venue , its about time Portrush got the Open , ive played there a couple o times , plus there are enough caravan holiday places around whereby accomadation would be affordable for the average Joe, seriously those maggots in lancashire need strung up robbing b####x every bed and bed can only be booked for a week @ a time

  • Comment number 20.

    Getting ready for a late night nail biting session in Singapore. If ever someone deserved a major it must be Darren...

    Come On Darren!!! Do yourself and N.Ireland proud!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    It would be difficult to be more wrong so far if I tried with my predictions.I thought an englishman would win and dyson is the closest and miles back and to be fair didn't give the americans a prayer.As I am from Northern Ireland (there are 1 and 1/2 million of us approx) I am glad to see that DC has a chance to make it 3 different NORTHERN Irish major winners within 14 odd months.odds anyone feb 2010?
    Go on darren,what a story also for the big lad if he does it!

  • Comment number 22.

    Rob Hodgetts Tweets show how unhelpful the PGA statistics are. They can't be consolidated for the full Round, and they don't relate in any way to the results. I have a complete analysis of every Shot in Round 3 played by Darren Clarke and Rickie Fowler.

    This shows that Rickie was level Par on Drives, Approaches and Chips, and 2 under for his Putts.

    Darren was 5 under Par for Drives and Approaches, but dropped 4 Shots on his putting, mainly due to missing 3 Putts of under 2 yards, for his 69.

    Send me an email address and I will let you have the full analysis. Peter Allis would love it

  • Comment number 23.

    This open has so much , drama, humour, and expectations, of course I want Darren to win, my heart tells me one thing my head another, its been so long since Fred Daley won in 1947, and gave me my first lesson in 1960 ! but what diabolic conditions, what a thing to see Jiminez stretching with that cigar clamped in his teeth !both he and Darren should enter a pie eating contest !
    At least they have fun and enjoy their golf unlike so many Americans who are too uptight esp Davis Love etc Rory is under way too much pressure to allow him to concentrate fully in a game that is all about concentration , but he must try to avoid the hype and tabloid nonsense and stay away from the limelight as best he can, I am still recovering from the emotional drama of Tom Watson last time, it broke all of older guys hearts, what a truly great guy.

  • Comment number 24.

    So frustrated by your tv coverage!
    For some reason you've decided to quickly flash the name and current score of the players up on screen when they first appear and then remove them (why on earth not leave them there?). Sometimes you don't even flash the name up at all (or did I happen to blink at the wrong time?) The commentators don't always mention the player's name so we're left guessing who we're watching or how they're doing.
    The leaderboard updates are few and far between so it's very hard to get a feel for how the tournament is progressing.
    Please do something before the latter stages of today's play, or if that's too much to ask, at least put it right for next year!!

  • Comment number 25.

    The TV coverage of the Open is hopeless! Endless shots of the crowd and scenery when all we want to do is watch the golf! There is some great golf being played and I do not want to see crowd shots when it is happening.
    Check out how golf is covered in Australia to see how it is done.
    The TV coverage every year is the same from the BBC, perhaps more people should complain instead of just sitting there taking it.

  • Comment number 26.

    Well it looks like it wont be a home winner this time....but come on Darren...make it 6 majors for Ireland in the last 4 years!

  • Comment number 27.

    Please inform the commentery team on the British open golf that the name COETZEE is pronounced CUTZEE-ER and not Cutzee

  • Comment number 28.

    It means the commentators are not pronouncing the name of a golfer participating in the final day of the open golf championship.

  • Comment number 29.

    When Peter Alliss talks about the Arnold Palmer era and his influence on the Open he always fails to mention the record of the Australian Peter Thomson who one the Championship five times and who in his last win in 1965 beat Arnold Palmer by 10 shots, Jack Nicklaus by nine and Tony Lema by five. It's odd because Peter himself played in that Open but was well down the field.

  • Comment number 30.

    What an advert for English golf!

  • Comment number 31.

    :-) Are there any english players? Didnt see any.

  • Comment number 32.

  • Comment number 33.


    Who can possibly doubt it? You can hype up your favourite players as much as you like if they can't deliver, then they don't count. And the only way for them is: .. . from apparent obsecurity to total oblivion. And so it proves !!

  • Comment number 34.

    Okay Folks,

    Who will win?

    As a fellow Ulsterman my hopes are with Darren,
    However as a leftie I would not be to upset if Mickelson won.

    By the way does anybody know where to I could buy a decent set of left handed golf clubs?



  • Comment number 35.

    Why oh why do the commentators go on about the "Old age of some of the competitors! They constantly go on about how old Darren Clarke is instead of concentrating on his golf!! just because someone is over 40-doesn't mean they should be defined by their age!! I thought the BBC were suppose to be stamping out on ageism??

  • Comment number 36.


    Due to my grammar going out the window. Cheap wine to blame ;)

    Okay Folks,

    Who will win?

    As a fellow Ulsterman my hopes are with Darren,
    However as a leftie I would not be to upset if Mickelson won.

    By the way does anybody know where I could buy a decent set of left handed golf clubs?



    Big up to Tom Watson he's done the USA proud,
    We are all getting older, should give up some hope :)

  • Comment number 37.

    Re Re Repost...

    Due to my grammar going out the window. Cheap wine to blame ;)

    Okay Folks,

    Who will win?

    As a fellow Ulsterman my hopes are with Darren,
    However as a leftie I would not be to upset if Mickelson won.

    By the way does anybody know where I could buy a decent set of left handed golf clubs?



    Big up!! to Tom Watson he's done the USA proud,
    We are all getting older, should give us some hope :)

    P.S Just looked at the wine bottle it states 14% Great Golf, Great wine.

  • Comment number 38.

    I can dry my eyes and pour a Guiness with a split of champagne BLACK VELVET , how much I wanted this to happen , very emotional experience for me as first time I hit a ball was in Portrush, Fred Daly must be looking down with a glass in his hand !!

  • Comment number 39.

    Hat-trick for Northen Ireland, I just wish Peter and the BBC would remenber that we are part of the U.K. so why show a Tri-colour (The repulic of Ireland flag) For those who don't know including Peter.

  • Comment number 40.

    What a 13 months for Irish golf. It's great that Darren joined his fellow country man And ole friend Harrington in the major league.

    Well done Darren.
    Irish men win 6 majors in 4 years. Unreal.


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