Clarke wins the 140th Open

Darren Clarke has held off a blistering charge from Phil Mickelson to claim a famous victory at the 140th Open Championship.

Darren Clarke held off a blistering charge from Phil Mickelson on Sunday to complete a famous three-shot victory at the 140th Open Championship.

The 42-year-old Northern Irishman, who not for a moment looked flustered, eased through a day of wind, rain and plenty of drama to post a level-par 70 for a 5-under total that was good enough to see him through to his first major victory, the third by a Northern Ireland national in the past two years following the two back-to-back US Open triumphs in 2010 and 2011 by Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

Clarke picked up the coveted Claret Jug, a first prize of 900,000 pounds ($1.45 million) and an extra bonus of two million pounds from one of his sponsors in a triumph that nobody would have expected, even a week ago.

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Phil Mickelson, whose three birdies and an eagle on the front had taken him into a share of the lead at 5-under at the turn, fell away a little on the back nine where he missed some critical putts to eventual close with a 2-under 68 and, in his best finish ever in The Open, he was able to tie for second at 2-under 278 with fellow American Dustin Johnson.

Johnson, who in the last year has also come desperately close to winning the US Open and the PGA Championship, closed with a mixed bag two-over 72.

Dane Thomas Bjorn (71), denied victory by a sad, late collapse when the event was last played at Sandwich in 2003, was fourth on 279.

Clarke, 111th in the world and viewed more as a mentor for his 22-year-old compatriot McIlroy than a contender when they practised together last Wednesday, lifted the Claret Jug at his 20th attempt.

“It’s incredible – it really is,” he said, becoming emotional when mention was made of his two sons, left motherless in 2006 when his wife Heather died of breast cancer.

“It’s for the kids,” he added, not knowing when he spoke that only three Open champions have been older than he is – De Vicenzo, Harry Vardon and Old Tom Morris.

Clarke, the overnight leader, looked nerveless at the start even though he cancelled out an early birdie at the second by dropping a stroke at the fourth.

Puffing calmly on a cigarette, seemingly oblivious to the 55 km an hour winds and the squally showers whistling in from the English Channel, the Northern Ireland star never appeared to get his feathers ruffled by Mickelson’s front-nine heroics

The American left-hander, who had previously had just one top-10 finish in 20 previous appearances, showed he meant business by blitzing his way to a remarkable best-of-the-tournament front nine of 30.

Ignoring the strongest winds of the week, Mickelson drew level with Clarke at the seventh hole when he rolled in his 20-foot eagle putt.

But Clarke, who believes his resurgence has been sparked in part by his up-coming marriage to Alison Campbell, a former Miss Northern Ireland who is now a model agncy boss, wasn’t about to hand the much coveted title to Mickelson or anyone else for that matter.

He hit back almost immediately with a matching eagle at the same 7th hole, sinking a superb tit-for-tat 25-footer in the process to once again go two shots clear.

The critical mistake which stopped the Mickelson charge in its tracks and saw the World No 6 fall back, came at the 11th where he inexplicably missed a putt from only two feet.

Yes, that’s right, from two feet! It edged the hole and lipped out as his focus seemed to slip.

He was never the same force again and with his putter now looking wobbly, the four-time major champion missed from seven feet at the 12th and eight feet at the 14th as he dropped out of contention.

For while he was now carding bogeys instead of birdies, Clarke was reeling off nine straight pars to the 16th to go four clear of the field at 7-under.

He dropped strokes at the last two holes but it really didn’t matter all that much for he still held a three-stroke lead when his final tap-in putt dropped into the hole to a huge roar from massive gallery that had cheered him home for almost the entire length of the final fairway.

Clarke, playing in the British Open for the 20th time, also broke the record for the most appearances in the championship before securing a debut win.

The previous record was held by Zimbabwean Nick Price who registered his first victory at Turnberry in 1994 in his 15th start.

Clarke receives no regular payment for wearing Dunlop clothing on the course, but, under his agreement with Sports Direct, he scooped a bonus of two million pounds for his first major win.

Top 20 leaderboard:

275 Darren Clarke 68 68 69 70
278 Dustin Johnson (USA) 70 68 68 72, Phil Mickelson (USA) 70 69 71 68
279 Thomas Bjorn (Den) 65 72 71 71
280 Anthony Kim (USA) 72 68 70 70, Chad Campbell (USA) 69 68 74 69, Rickie Fowler (USA) 70 70 68 72
281 Raphael Jacquelin (Fra) 74 67 71 69
282 Davis Love III (USA) 70 68 72 72, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 70 70 74 68, Simon Dyson 68 72 72 70
283 Steve Stricker (USA) 69 71 72 71, Lucas Glover (USA) 66 70 73 74, Martin Kaymer (Ger) 68 69 73 73
284 George Coetzee (Rsa) 69 69 72 74
285 Zach Johnson (USA) 72 68 71 74, Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) 70 70 73 72, Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 71 67 75 72, Richard Green (Aus) 70 71 73 71, Webb Simpson (USA) 66 74 72 73, Y.E. Yang (Kor) 71 69 73 72