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8:11AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Clarke holds off Phil, Dustin for victory

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SANDWICH, England -- He stepped out of the rain and the pressure to a place  no one except Darren Clarke ever believed he would be, the final green at the British Open -- his nation's championship, as it were -- with a lead impossible to squander.

That he made bogey on the final two holes Sunday was irrelevant. Clarke's journey, the longest ever to an Open victory, was a success, and as he said later, "I certainly had a few thoughts going through my head.''

Clarke, 42, won on his 20th attempt to hoist the Claret Jug; no player had won the Open after more than 15 empty tries. He had given the remarkable little nation of Northern Ireland (population about 1.8 million) its third major champion in 13 months.

Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Rory McIlroy the recent U.S. Open at Congressional and now with a final-round even-par 70 and a 72-hole total of 5-under-par 275 at Royal St. George's, Clarke, in the words of R&A chief Peter Dawson, had  become, "Champion golfer of the year.''

He finished three shots ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson, who  provided front-nine drama and had his best-ever British Open, and Dustin Johnson. Another shot behind at 279 was Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who had shared the first-round lead. They were the only  golfers under par.

Chad Campbell, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler, three more  Americans, were at 280 in this 140th Open, giving the maligned United States five of the top seven.

With Davis Love tied for ninth and Steve Stricker and Lucas Glover tied for 12th, there were eight Americans in the top 14.

Still, it was the sixth straight major without an American winner.

Clarke had not contended in the Open since 2001. He had been put in the shade, as the Brits say, by McDowell, who missed the cut, and the 22-year-old McIlroy, who shot 7-over  287. "But I always believed I would get back,'' Clarke said.

What amounted to a home crowd cheered Clarke all the way, finishing with a mammoth standing ovation as he paraded the 18th fairway.

"It's been a dream since I've been a kid to win the Open,'' Clarke said, "like any kid's dream is, and I'm able to do it, which just feels incredible . . . The crowd were sensational for me all week. It's been a while since I felt that amount of support.''

Clarke, who likes to hoist a few -- "I may not be sober for the Irish Open,  but I will be in Killarney'' -- has been a popular and sympathetic figure. His wife, Heather, died just before the 2006 Ryder Cup. He chose to play, won three matches and was called an inspiration to the overwhelming European win.

Johnson, who started the day a shot behind Clarke, was 1 over on the front and fell to four behind after nine. Mickelson moved into  second with a brilliant 5-under 30 on those holes. But going into 14, Clarke was  7 under, Johnson 5 under and Mickelson 4 under.

Reminiscent of his failures last year in the U.S. Open and PGA, Johnson hit his second shot on  the par-5 14th out of bounds.

Clarke received text messages before the final round from Tiger Woods, whom he counts  as a close friend, and McIlroy, who gained inspiration from Clarke growing up in  Northern Ireland.

McIlroy and McDowell had achieved their dreams. Now Darren Clarke, their mentor, realized his.

At the victory ceremony on the 18th green, Clarke pointed skyward and in remembrance of his wife, said someone was watching over him.

"In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me," Clarke said later. "She's probably be saying, 'I told you so.' "

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/clarke-holds-off-phil-dustin-for-victory-1.3030802
Copyright © 2011 Newsday. All rights reserved.
7:59AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Clarke leads Johnson in British Open

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SANDWICH, England -- One has a lifetime of near misses, the other only a single heart-breaking year. Darren Clarke and Dustin Johnson are  linked more by what they haven't done than what they have.

Clarke, at 5-under-par 205, has a one-shot lead over Johnson after Saturday's third round of the 140th British Open, a tournament battered by weather and elevated by expectations.

"I've failed 19 times to try and lift the Claret Jug,'' Clarke, 42, said of the trophy presented to the champion, "and Sunday, I have the opportunity.''

So does Johnson, 27, from South Carolina whose  near misses in 2010, unable to hold final-round leads at the U.S. Open and PGA  Championship, made him a sympathetic figure.

American pros are winless in the last five majors, including the U.S. Open last month at Congressional, won by Clarke's Northern Irish countryman, Rory McIlroy.

A year ago, another Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell, won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. And there have been German and South African winners. Now, suddenly the leader board is full of U.S. challengers besides Johnson.

Ten of the top 16 golfers after 54 holes are Americans, including Rickie Fowler, whose  2-under 68 moved him into a tie for third; Lucas Glover, tumbling  from a tie for first after a 73, is tied for fifth; and Anthony Kim, Davis Love III and -- surprise -- Phil  Mickelson are tied for seventh.

The nasty weather forecast arrived Saturday with a bang, 30-mph winds and in the morning steady rain. But conditions started to abate by the time Clarke and Glover teed off at 3  p.m. "We started off in terrible conditions,'' Clarke said, "but then got lucky.''

Clarke shot 1-under 69 with superb ball-striking and only so-so putting.

Johnson shot 2-under 68. Johnson, who in the first round was 4 over through 13 holes, was at 5 under with two to play Saturday but bogeyed 17.

"The European Tour guys have been playing well," Johnson said, alluding to the fact that Mickelson, at the 2010  Masters, was the last U.S. player to take a major. "But I don't think there's anything wrong with the American guys or American golf. We struggled, but we've got a good shot at getting one Sunday.''

Johnson had great shots last year. He was in front at Pebble Beach in the Open, then triple-bogeyed the second hole and double-bogeyed the third. Two months later, after apparently tying for first in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Johnson was penalized for grounding his club in a bunker and missed the playoff won by German Martin Kaymer.

"The U.S. Open,'' Johnson said about his agony, "was the first time I've gone into a major in the last group.''

Sunday will be the third time in the last six tournaments. Knowing the crowd will be cheering for Clarke, Johnson said: "I'm OK with that. He's on his home turf, so I would expect him to have huge crowd support. But the fans out there have been great for me.''

They were out there for McIlroy, as well, but he  played inconsistently, hit a ball out-of-bounds and shot 4-over 74, tying him  with the venerable Tom Watson, the 61-year-old who shot 72 in the worst of the weather and is tied with McIlroy.

Mickelson has only one top 10 finish, a third in 2004, in 17 previous British Opens, but he seems to have figured out links golf. "We got lucky with the weather,'' Mickelson said, echoing Clarke. "We went from fighting for pars on every hole to thinking birdies on some holes.''

Clarke's wife died of cancer just before the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club near Dublin. He chose to play, won all three of his matches and inspired the Europeans to a rout.

Clarke has reordered his life and is engaged to a former Miss Northern Ireland. Asked what it would mean to win the Open, Clarke replied: "Everything. It's the biggest and best tournament in the world.''


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8:47AM

Global Golf Post: Gray Matter: What Was He Thinking?

By Art Spander
For GlobalGolfPost.com


PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA -- He either is courageous or outrageous. Maybe a little of both. As a television reporter, Jim Gray pushes the envelope, and so after an incident the Golf Channel pushed him off the broadcast of the Northern Trust Open.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2011 Global Golf Post
9:01AM

RealClearSports: Wrong Time for Cursed Golfer Johnson

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Golf isn't a sport, it's absurdity. Columnist Jim Murray, who used to belong to Riviera, where they're playing the Northern Trust Open this week, called golf the pursuit of the infinite.

It has rules out of the 19th Century. It has scenarios out of the pages of "Alice in Wonderland."

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2011
9:49AM

RealClearSports: A Game of Quirky Rules and Personal Honor

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


So the cry has been raised: Let's rewrite the rules of golf. And then what, baseball? Football? If it's unfair a player can't ground his club in a bunker, it's also unfair that three strikes are out or that a fumble belongs to the last man who had possession.

Indeed, golf has a lot of quirky regulations. It also has a code of honor, which is why a golfer doesn't have to be watched by a referee or an umpire, not that anyone could follow the progress or regress of 150 people on a course.

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2010