Irish eyes smiling as Clarke wins Open

Darren Clarke completed a three-shot victory at the British Open Sunday to repel a dynamic charge from Phil Mickelson and to claim his first major title.

The 42-year old Briton, who became the championship’s first home winner in the past 12 years, went home $1.545 million richer. Aside3 from the coveted Claret jug, his kit sponsor also sent him home with a two million pound-bonus after he fired a level-par 70 to finish five-under-par.

This is the sixth in a row that the United States missed out on the majors.

Tied for second place was US Ryder Cup team mates Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Fourth place went to Dane Thomas Bjorn who was denied victory when he last played the game at Sandwich in 2003.

“It’s been a dream since I was a kid to win the Open and I was able to do it,” Clarke said. He dominated the field that he could even afford to finish with two bogies.

“It just feels incredible. I’ve been unbelievably comfortable and confident in my own ability this week. This is for my two kids, they’ll be very proud,” he added. He also acknowledged his late wife Heather who died of cancer in 2006.

Clarke may have cancelled out an early birdie at the second but he looked nerveless at the start. The Northern Irishman looked oblivious to the strong winds and the squally showers from the English Channel as he calmly puffed on a cigarette.

Mickelson, who rolled in a 20-foot eagle putt drawing level with Clarke at the seventh hole, was one of those who ignored the strongest winds at the Royal St. George’s. A matching eagle was hit by Clarke at the same hole after a 25-footer.

World number six Mickelson blundered when he missed from two feet at the 11th, then from seven feet at the 12th and eight feet at the 14th.

Clarke is the third major winner from Northern Ireland in a period of one year. His victory followed the back-to-back victories of Graeme McDowell in the 2010 U.S. Open and Rory Mcllroy just last month.

“We’re blessed to have two fantastic players in Rory and G-Mac and I’ve just come along, the old guy, behind them,” said Clarke, who has charged from 111th in the world ranking into the top 30.

“I think we’ve just been lucky (in Northern Ireland). To have three major champions from a small, little place in a short period of time is fantastic.”

The Irishman has broken the record for most championship appearances before landing a victory. Clarke has played for the 20th time in the British Open. This is also his 54th major.

Clarke, who regularly wears Dunlop clothes when he plays, does not receive payment for it but his agreement with Sports Direct sco9red him a bonus.

“I think the celebrations could be long…and very enjoyable,” he said. “There might be some of the black stuff (Guinness) going into that trophy tonight.”