Sun Sentinel
PGA Tour
Clarke conquers British Open



Sandwich, England (Sports Network) - Darren Clarke fought off challenges by Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson on Sunday to win the 140th British Open Championship at Royal St. George's.

Clarke closed with an even-par 70 to finish at five-under-par 275.

"Everyone wants to have, well in my case, four putts to win the Open on the last green, which was very nice, but you want to try to compete at the highest level and want to try and win majors," Clarke said in a televised interview. "As close I was at getting annoyed with the game and fed up with the game, I still kept the belief."

This was Clarke's first major championship title in his 54th attempt. His best previous finish in the four majors both came at this championship -- second in 1997 and third in 2001.

The victory was Clarke's 14th on the European Tour and third on the PGA Tour. His other two PGA Tour titles were both World Golf Championship events.

Clarke's win gave Northern Ireland its second straight major championship title and third in the last six majors contested. Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open in record fashion in June, a year after Graeme McDowell won the same event.

The back-to-back wins for Northern Ireland are the first for any country other than the United States since 1910. Clarke was also the second player from Northern Ireland to win the claret jug, joining Fred Daly, who won the crown in 1947.

Clarke is the first major champion over the age of 40 since Vijay Singh won the PGA Championship in 2004.

This was Clarke's 20th start at the British Open, which breaks the record for most starts before winning the title. Nick Price had the old record, winning the British Open in his 15th appearance.

Johnson closed with a two-over 72 to end alongside Mickelson at two-under-par 278. Mickelson posted a two-under 68 on Sunday.

Johnson, who played alongside Clarke, posted three birdies in a six-hole span from the seventh to get within two at minus-five. However, he knocked his second shot out of bounds on the 14th and walked off with a double-bogey.

Mickelson had three birdies and an eagle in the first seven holes to grab a share of the lead at minus-five. He got it to six-under with a birdie on the 10th, but had four bogeys between the 11th and 16th to end his chances.

The four-time major champion Mickelson posted a five-under 30 on the front nine to match his best nine holes in a major, which he had done four times previously. Despite the loss, the tie for second was Mickelson's best finish at this championship.

Thomas Bjorn managed a one-over 71 and was the final player in red figures at one-under-par 279.

Three Americans -- Chad Campbell (69), Anthony Kim (70) and Rickie Fowler (72) -- shared fifth place at even-par 280.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 champion, struggled to a seven-over 77 to end at plus-13.

Amateur Tom Lewis, who shared the first-round lead, closed with a four-over 74 to finish at nine-over 289. He claimed the Silver Medal as top amateur golfer at the Open Championship.

The par-five seventh proved to be the biggest turning point of the final round.

Mickelson was charging up the leaderboard with birdies at the second, fourth and six to move within two of Clarke, who had a birdie and bogey in his first four holes. Mickelson ran home a 30-footer for eagle on No. 7 to join Clarke at five-under par.

Three groups later, Clarke responded in fine fashion. His approach to the seventh came to rest inside 20 feet, and he poured in that eagle attempt to jump to minus-seven.

Clarke led by two at that point, and he was never caught. Mickelson birdied the 10th to get within one, but bogeyed four of the next six holes to fall out of contention.

Johnson also made a run. After falling to minus-two, he birdied three of six holes from the seventh to jump to minus-five. Johnson was still two back, but had all the momentum.

That came to a halt on the 14th when he pushed his second shot well right and out of bounds. Johnson walked off with a double-bogey and was four back.

Clarke did what you need to do with a big lead in a major - make pars, and lots of them. After his eagle on the seventh, the Ulsterman reeled off nine consecutive pars to remain at seven-under par.

The 42-year-old, who entered the week ranked 111th in the world, owned a four- stroke lead heading to the last two holes. Clarke's approach to the 17th came up short. His long birdie putt stopped four feet from the hole, but he missed the par-saving effort as well.

That was his first bogey on the back nine since he bogeyed the 16th in round two.

Clarke also missed a short par putt at the last for a closing bogey, which kept his winning margin at three after Johnson bogeyed the 18th.

"There was all sorts of stuff going through my mind, but I've been through an awful lot to get myself into that position, so it was just wonderful," Clarke said on TV.

According to Sal Johnson of golfstats.com, only Mark O'Meara had more starts in a major before winning than Clarke did. O'Meara won the 1998 Masters in his 59th start in a major, while this was Clarke's 54th major championship event.

NOTES: Clarke was the 30th 54-hole leader in the last 54 attempts to win the British Open...Clarke won his third straight event with the 54-hole lead on the European Tour and fifth in the last six overall...It was his second win in as many tries with the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour...Clarke is the 12th different winner in the last 12 major championships and became the sixth consecutive first-time major champion...Martin Kaymer, the reigning PGA Champion, closed with a 73 to end at plus-three, while Masters winner Charl Schwartzel posted a 72 to share 16th at five-over-par 285 and U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy shot 73 to finish at plus-seven...Next year's British Open will be contested at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where David Duval won by three in 2001...Next week on the European Tour is the Nordea Masters, where Richard S. Johnson picked up a one-stroke win last year.

07/17 15:06:33 ET