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2011 Open Championship: 20th time's a charm for Darren Clarke

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Surely there must be something in the waters of Northern Ireland.

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On Sunday, Northern Irishman Darren Clarke fired a final-round even-par 70 at Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Sandwich, England, to claim his first major championship at the 2011 Open Championship, his 20th start in the event.

Posting a total of five-under par 275, he finished three shots clear of Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson blazed out of the gates on Sunday, playing his first ten holes in six-under par and at one point holding a share of the lead. But a missed two-foot putt on the 11th hole sent him two shots back of Clarke and he faded from there after a number of loose swings on the way in.

Johnson, who played in the final group with Clarke, was within two shots of the lead when he hit his second shot out-of-bounds on the par five 14th hole, leading to a double bogey. It was the third major championship in the last six in which Johnson has had an oustanding chance to win and has not risen to the occasion.

Clarke joins countrymen Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open) and Rory McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) as recent major champions. Northern Ireland has claimed three of the last six majors, creating a dynasty of sorts that consists of one of the games young superstars in 22-year old McIlroy, a player entering his prime in the 31-year old McDowell, and a distinguished veteran in the 42-year old Clarke. It may seem somewhat ironic that Clarke became the last of the three to win a major championship, but perhaps it speaks more soundly to the comradeship shared by many top European golfers: rather than jealousy, their individual successes inspire and motivate the others. It makes one wonder if the seemingly more fraternal society of professional golfers outside America is starting to create a tangible advantage. It seems as good a reason as any to explain why the last six major championships and the last eight of nine have been claimed by players who hail from outside of the United States.

The end of the Open Championship leaves one major still to come in 2011: the PGA Championship, which will be held at the Atlanta Athletic Club August 11-14.

~ ~ ~

The Open Championship is not the only top professional golf event taking place this past weekend. Back on American soil, in steamy Mississippi, Chris Kirk captured his first career PGA Tour victory at the 2011 Viking Classic. A birdie on the par four 17th hole at Annandale Golf Club gave him his one-shot margin of victory over Tom Pernice, Jr. and George McNeill. First round co-leader and Connecticut native Tim Petrovic shot a disappointing final-round 74 to finish in a tie for 38th place.

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