The 42-year-old Northern Irishman set an Open record by winning the claret jug in his 20th attempt, and he did it in impressive fashion, sleeping on at least a share of the lead two nights, and then fending off a dozen or more realistic challengers on Sunday. After losing his wife to breast cancer five years earlier, Clarke was an immensely popular champion with players and fans at Royal St. George's, a testament to his persistence both on the golf course and off.
Bogey: Dustin Johnson
The 27-year-old Johnson entered Sunday a shot off the lead and intent on distancing himself from his final-round blunders in 2010. But after remaining within range of Clarke most of Sunday afternoon, Johnson committed another costly gaffe on the 14th hole, when he tried to get home with a 2-iron, and blew his approach out of bounds. Two back at the time, Johnson said he had no choice but to go for the green. But as with his blow up at Pebble and his bunker goof at Whistling Straits, it's an event that will stay with him.
Birdie: Second acts
As quick as we are to write off certain players, this Open was an argument for keeping our pens in our pockets. Clarke won the Open in his 20th attempt. Thomas Bjorn contended after gagging the Open away here in 2003. Sergio Garcia made a run up the leader board when he almost didn't qualify. Even Phil Mickelson, whose Open record has been mostly unspectacular, found himself leading the championship at one point. None were given much of a chance this week. All seemed to relish that very fact.
Birdie: Royal St. George's
It will never win a beauty contest (unless it's among golf courses with reactors in the background), or a popularity one, but the Open's southernmost venue produced another compelling tournament, with a number of upper-echelon players in contention, and one worth champion. The bounces were goofy, and the weather was predictably awful, but if it made for good theater, who are we to complain?
Bogey: Rory McIlroy
The U.S. Open champion wasn't able to duplicate his charmed performance at Congressional, and that would extend to his post-tournament remarks. Asked about his week at Royal St. George's, where he finished at seven-over par after a closing 73, McIlroy went where golfers are cautioned not to go: he blamed the weather. "I'm not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather," McIlroy said. Asked if he might need to adjust his game to deal with the Open's conditions, McIlroy offered another solution. "It's either that or just wait for a year when the weather is nice."
Birdie: Chubby Chandler
A player agent's influence only goes so far, but Andrew "Chubby" Chandler is having the most dominant season in golf since Tiger Woods in 2000. The agent and head of ISM Sports Management represents each of the season's first three major winners, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, and Darren Clarke. Throw in another client, 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, and Chandler can boast four of the last five major winners. With that in mind, Chandler probably isn't in hurting for business.
Bogey: Phil Mickelson
The left-hander was all smiles after his final round, and perhaps justifiably so. After so many Opens when he was little more than a spectator, Mickelson found himself tied for the lead when he eagled the par-5 seventh. But the lead was short-lived, and Mickelson spent the back nine hemorrhaging strokes. A missed short par putt on the 11th led to the first of four bogeys in a six-hole stretch, and he would end up having to settle for a share of second. It was Mickelson's best showing in an Open and his second top 10. The other way to look at it was that at age 41, Mickelson had his best chance to win one of these, and might not get another.
Birdie: American golf
After so much hand-wringing about the state of American golf, a response came at Royal St. George's, with seven of the top 12 players coming from the U.S.
Bogey: American golf
As strong a showing as it was, it still wasn't good enough. The win by Clarke extended the U.S. winless streak in majors to six, dating back to Phil Mickelson's win in the 2010 Masters. For those American players sick of being asked what's going wrong, you can count on the question being asked again at the PGA.
Birdie: Links golf
The best antidote for the driver-wedge monotony of the PGA Tour? How about a week when players rely far more on their imaginations than they do their yardage books? A popular refrain from players is that they loved the options they were given at Royal St. George's. We only wish they were presented the same challenge more than once a year.