BBC BLOGS - Rob Hodgetts

Archives for July 2011

Clarke's rocky road ends in Open redemption

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Rob Hodgetts | 21:59 UK time, Sunday, 17 July 2011


All good things come to those who wait and Darren Clarke has waited longer than anyone.

The genial Northern Irishman finally reaped the rewards of the talent which has promised so much over the years but which was in danger of remaining unfulfilled.

Clarke's stunning Open victory at Royal St George's came at his 20th attempt, a new record for the number of appearances before a win in the event.

The 42-year-old, playing in his 54th major, is of a generation of players that were on the verge of being labelled "the past", given the exploits of the young guns, led by 22-year-old Rory McIlroy.

And he was becoming the forgotten man of Northern Irish golf after the US Open successes of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

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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.

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Sandwich survivors prepare for savage battle

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Rob Hodgetts | 21:52 UK time, Friday, 15 July 2011


They've survived the shipwreck. Now those left clinging to the liferafts have got to weather the storm.

The notoriously tricky Royal St George's discarded a host of big names, including the world's top two players, on Friday. Luke Donald and Lee Westwood were among the casualties on a splendid, but savage, summer's day at Sandwich. But now the ante is being upped.

The forecast for Saturday is for heavy rain and 20-25mph winds, gusting to 35mph. Similar for Sunday.

The rain's not too bad. It rains all over the world. But add the wind and a course that yielded just 22 rounds under par in the sunshine - and 18 players below par at halfway - becomes a mind-twister. Like trying to play bagatelle on the deck of a heaving ship.

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Amateur dramatics from Lewis after veteran Bjorn again

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Rob Hodgetts | 22:04 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sport never goes to script and it is all the better for it.

There we were wittering on about Rory, Luke and Lee in the pre-Open build-up.

But like an explosive thunderstorm clearing muggy air, Thomas Bjorn and then Tom Lewis took the tale in a fresh direction and relegated McIlroy, Donald and Westwood to subplots.

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How to shine in Sandwich

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Rob Hodgetts | 14:18 UK time, Wednesday, 13 July 2011

True mountaineers never claim to have "conquered" a peak. They say the mountain gods have granted them brief access to the top.

And so it will be this week. The 2011 Open champion can claim to have defeated 155 rivals but he will not have beaten Royal St George's. He will only have been allowed safe passage enough to reach Sunday night at the head of the expedition.

Between now and then, the winner will have hit somewhere in the region of 280-odd golf shots. Maybe just one less than the next man over four days on a wild stretch of the Kent coastline.

Each one will have been studied, plotted, mulled over, discussed and practised. Some will come off. Others won't. So what's the key to playing at Sandwich? I asked BBC golf commentator Ken Brown and Royal St George's head professional Andrew Brooks for the inside track.

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Ken Brown's six UK contenders

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Rob Hodgetts | 19:05 UK time, Tuesday, 12 July 2011

With two Englishman topping the world rankings at a course named after the nation's patron saint, hopes of a home Open champion are high.

Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are flying the flag at Royal St George's this week as England looks for a first Open winner since Nick Faldo won at Muirfield in 1992.

The UK as a whole is also yearning for a new hero after Scotland's Paul Lawrie last won at Carnoustie in 1999.

So who will finally slay the dragon this week? BBC golf commentator Ken Brown picks his six most likely contenders to break the UK major duck.

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Sandwich ready to be main course

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Rob Hodgetts | 16:52 UK time, Monday, 11 July 2011

Daunting dunes, bottomless bunkers, withering winds, scorching sun, ramrod rain, vast views, clamouring crowds, 156 hopefuls...and one lucky man clutching a Claret Jug on Sunday.

The world of golf will descend on a small corner of Kent this week for the 140th Open Championship at Royal St George's.

The competition for European, if not world, golf's most cherished prize is never without drama, be it misfortune, triumph, weather woes, fallen heroes, shock winners or old favourites giving it a last charge.

The tale will have added spice in Sandwich as we wait to see how a new young superstar fares. Rory McIlroy is the new face of golf in the post-Tiger Woods era. For the 22-year-old Northern Irishman, the attention will be intense.

After McIlroy's dominant US Open win, people likened him to Woods. Some were already looking at Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors. A bit premature maybe, though Nicklaus himself says he doesn't see McIlroy as a one-hit wonder.

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A-Z of the Open Championship

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Rob Hodgetts | 09:00 UK time, Monday, 11 July 2011

Do you love the Open? Will the real world take a back seat this week as you follow the fortunes of club-wielding men in bright clothes in a windswept corner of Kent?

Good. You're in the right place, then. To kick things off and get you in the mood, here's an A-Z of the Open.

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Greenkeeper puts finishing touches to Open course

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Rob Hodgetts | 12:52 UK time, Friday, 8 July 2011

Royal St George's will provide the backdrop for a compelling drama this week. Sure, the principal actors will breeze in for a few days and steal the limelight, but the unsung heroes are the stagehands responsible for the magnificent set.

The head greenkeeper is 44-year-old Graham Royden, who has been at the club for 19 years and worked as an assistant at the 1993 and 2003 Opens at Sandwich.

With the world's sporting gaze focusing on his handiwork this week he's clearly a very busy man, but he took time out to speak to BBC Sport.

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